Quiet professional receives Purple Heart Medal
February 21, 2013
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii-- His co-workers describe him as a quiet professional who's at the top of the knowledge pool in his field, yet willing to work with Soldiers at all levels.
"You get some of those people in the Army that are flashy and show-boaters. We call them spotlight rangers," said Lt. Col. Michael Legler, the Assistant Chief of Staff for the 8th Theater Sustainment Command. "That is the total opposite of Mr. Dearing."
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mason Dearing is a father of two, a native of Peoria, Ill., and the senior maintenance technician for the 8th TSC's logistical support section responsible for all maintenance issues spanning from Korea to Alaska to Hawaii.
"He's a blue collar, hard working professional," Legler continued. "Very dependable. He is what I want in a warrant officer."
While he makes it look effortless, it hasn't always been the simplest ride for Dearing to reach this pinnacle.
The 24-year Army veteran spent approximately five years of his life in deployed environments. He's seen his share of combat, complete with rockets, mortars, and improvised explosive devices. One such blast brought him to death's door and changed his life forever.
"The IED's at the time were pretty intense; they were going off as soon as we would leave the gate" he described his 2003 deployment to Ramadi, Iraq. "We had no up-armored [vehicles] during that time; we had to make our own doors, so we started cutting our own metals and putting on the doors ourselves."
Dearing had made frequent trips outside of the forward operating base's gates with his team handling maintenance throughout the Sunni Triangle, a densely-populated region of Iraq to the northwest of Baghdad that is inhabited mostly by Sunni Muslim Arabs. Each side of the triangle is approximately 125 miles long. But, he said, this trip was different.
"We were getting ready to go out the gate and my major and a couple other guys look back at me in the back seat and said, 'Chief, are you ready?' I could see something in everybody's eyes," he explained. "When you go out as much as we did, you just have a feeling. You get a sense of when it's going to be a good ride, or when things are going to get bad. You look each other in the eye and there's this look that everybody gives each other that this may be it. We knew something was going to happen. No kidding, we knew when we rolled out that gate. We just prayed to God that we could get through it."
They were about five miles from the gate when the IED went off. The impact of the blast blew the vehicle's windows out.
He said, "The blast was so loud and very intense. We wobbled off the road and immediately checked each other out to see what injuries we sustained."
Initially, no one in the vehicle appeared to be hurt, he said. So after a few hours, they brought the vehicle back to base and went through the mandatory checkups that Soldiers receive after incidents.
"When I was getting checked out, I had a headache, I had stuff coming out of my ears, and my heart wasn't beating right; the rhythm was off, and I really didn't know what was going on," he said. "Me being an athlete my whole life and coming into the Army, I knew that something was wrong. I could feel it."
Dearing was released from the medical team to his quarters. When he laid down on his bunk for the night, his heart stopped. He was flown to Baghdad immediately and landed directly into a mass casualty event.
"The hospital was really ramped up," he said. "At this point during the war, the enemy was attacking ambulances and shooting at the wounded."
The medical teams at Baghdad used what equipment they had to test Dearing, but were unable to determine the cause of his heart palpitations, so they gave him some medication to calm him and sent him back to his unit in Ramadi. He was able to see a cardiologist, when he redeployed to Ft. Riley, Kan.
"The cardiologist came back and said, 'Chief, you've got a break in here. You had a heart attack, and there is a scar on your heart,'" he said. "The doctor told me that other than the medication I have to take, there is nothing more that she can do. The scar was way down inside my heart on the left side; it's so far down that she could not reach it. So I'm going to have this rhythm problem for the rest of my life."
A decade, two deployments, two promotions, and a lot of paperwork later, and he found himself in the 8th TSC headquarters, listening to Col. Lance Cordoni, chief surgeon now stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, who helped Dearing connect with the Purple Heart Association, and Maj. Gen. Steven Lyons, the commander of the 8th TSC, tell Dearing's story.
The Dearing family shed tears during the moving affirmation, as their Soldier was pinned with the Purple Heart Medal.
"I will have to carry these pills and this injury for the rest of my life," he shared with the group. "But this medal brings some closure for me. I can take this medal and wear it, and I know this represents more than just what I went through. It represents all the men and women that earned this award and may not have received it. This is as much for them as it is for me."