FORWARD OPERATING BASE MASUM GHAR, Afghanistan (June 4, 2013) -- On the morning of May 11, Sgt. Joseph Moore was riding in a Stryker driven by Pfc. Steven Bergen, when the vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. His next few memories included looking up and seeing UH-60 Black Hawk rotors.
The next thing he knew, Moore was completely naked in front of strangers in a place he didn't recognize.
Twenty days later, Moore, Bergen and Staff Sgt. Jose Canales, an engineer, received Purple Heart Medals from Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal, during a ceremony, May 31, on Forward Operating Base Masum Ghar, Afghanistan.
Westphal and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell traveled from the Pentagon to observe firsthand the status of ongoing retrograde operations in Afghanistan, gain insight into the readiness of the Afghan National Security Forces, and meet with leaders, Soldiers and the civilian workforce.
"A wound to a Soldier is a wound to our Army. A wound to the Army is a wound to our nation. The Army extends its gratitude to all wounded Soldiers," Westphal said, as he addressed all in attendance following the ceremony.
Moore and Bergen, both infantrymen with Company C "Chaos," 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, Combined Task Force 4-2, were headed out on a typical mounted patrol when they rolled over the improvised explosive device, or IED, that was buried beneath the dirt road they were traveling on.
"It's like getting in a fight when you're younger and you get knocked out; you wake up later," said Moore. "That's pretty much all it felt like to me."
"Maybe it was just sensory overload. I just remember the dust settling and the truck was still rolling," said Bergen, a Windsor, Conn., native. "So I stopped the truck."
After checking himself for possible wounds, Bergen crawled out of the "hellhole," which is the tiny corridor that connects the driver's hull to the rest of the vehicle, and helped carry an unconscious Moore to the medical evacuation helicopter.
"I know the feeling of shock waves and I totally do not remember the bang, the explosion, the shock wave, or anything," Bergen said.
After arriving at the hospital on Kandahar Airfield, or KAF, Afghanistan, the two men were diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, or TBI.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known as the CDC, TBI is caused by "a bump, blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the normal function of the brain."
Canales experienced a similar scenario as the two infantrymen.
Canales was riding on a convoy moving his unit from Forward Operating Base Masum Ghar to KAF as a final movement before heading back to their home station of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., when his vehicle struck an IED.
"I didn't hear anything," said Canales, a Selden, N.Y., native. "I just remember the vehicle being up and everything went down. I was upside down."
After checking himself for possible injuries and escaping his seat belt, Canales said he helped his driver out of his seat and the two exited the vehicle. Canales was seen by the unit's medic and sent off on a medical evacuation helicopter.
Berger and Canales had the same initial reaction, make sure they were intact.
For Canales and Bergen, following standard operating procedures such as wearing protective posture equipment, or PPE, and strapping down loose equipment in the vehicle may have helped then from sustaining worse injuries, they said.
"I'm very lucky," said Canales. "After seeing the truck and everything, I feel kind of blessed to be alive."
Bergen said he and Moore used to joke about receiving purple hearts and it was strange that they actually received them one month before their deployment is scheduled to end.
"Guess you have multiple lives, multiple chances," said Berger. "Because if (more explosives) had gone off, I'd have been dead probably."
Following the award ceremony, the two Army senior leaders address the Soldiers and thanked them for their selfless service.
"Thanks for what you do every day for our Army and our nation. Take care of each of other and stay connected with your families. What you are doing is making a difference for the Afghan people and Afghan forces," Campbell said.
The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the U.S. military who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy. It is awarded posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. The award is specifically a combat decoration.