FORT RUCKER, Ala. — Patrick Smith, a former Army staff sergeant, was awarded the nation’s oldest military decoration for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom III, during a ceremony held at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, Jan. 3, 2022.
Smith was wounded in Iraq while serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3d Infantry Division in 2005.
Lt. Gen. Roger R. Cloutier Jr., commander, Allied Land Command, North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Turkey, presented the Purple Heart, which is awarded to members of the U.S. Armed Forces who were wounded by an instrument of war at the hands of the enemy.
“Pat, sixteen years ago you earned this Purple Heart. I apologize that we did not award this to you back in September of 2005 when you sustained the wounds that led to this award. But I’m glad that we were finally able to get this done and get you the recognition that you deserve,” Cloutier said during his remarks.
Cloutier thanked installation leaders, Smith’s family members, other Purple Heart recipients in the audience and the brothers in arms whom Cloutier and Smith served with that traveled from various states to be present at the ceremony.
Cloutier described the deployment to Forward Operating Base Normandy, located in an area where the insurgency had picked up and Soldiers were at risk every day.
The unit was able to make significant improvements in the area, but the deaths of seven of their teammates who were killed in action, and the 36 wounded in action — including Smith — serve as a reminder that their success did not come without significant sacrifice, Cloutier said.
The comrades they lost are also a solemn reminder of a greater cause, and why people continue to serve and sacrifice for our nation.
“America is not just a place, it’s an idea, and it represents something to the rest of the world,” said Cloutier.
Cloutier recounted the events of the night of Sept. 5, 2005, when Smith served as the vehicle commander of a M1114 HMMWV, a scout reconnaissance vehicle on a six-vehicle reconnaissance patrol. Then Lt. Col. Cloutier commanded the vehicle directly behind Smith’s, witnessing the events firsthand.
As they returned from conducting "Operation Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner" in Muqdadiya, during the predawn hours on Sept. 6, Smith stepped from his vehicle to clear an animal that was crossing the road near Jazira when his vehicle was struck by a command-detonated improvised explosive device.
Smith’s vehicle was blown upward on two wheels by the force of the blast, and the armored door swung open. As the vehicle landed, the door impacted Smith’s head, which knocked him unconscious. Another Soldier inside the vehicle was also injured.
As he regained consciousness, the vehicle was on fire and ammunition was discharging inside the vehicle from the heat of the fire. In spite of his condition, Smith continued his duty clearing the village until he was overcome by symptoms resulting from the head injury, and he received medical care.
“Pat, your actions reflect what makes our nation so very strong and why our enemies fear the American Soldier — because they know you cannot stop an American Soldier,” Cloutier said.
Regardless of the circumstances or their condition, Soldiers like Smith and his battle buddies always drive on and accomplish the mission, he said.
“We are so very proud of you, and so very proud you’re finally getting this award,” Cloutier said. “Thank you for your service and your sacrifice."
Cloutier also spoke directly to the Smiths’ young children.
“You should be very, very proud of your father. He represents the best America has to offer. He represents what makes the United States of America such a great country and a model for the world to follow. He served with distinction and honor. He did his duty with heroism and grace every single day for 365 days in combat, by my side.”
Smith, in his remarks thanked Cloutier and installation leaders, family, his battle buddies and fellow Purple Heart recipients.
He said he felt blessed that he was able to come home alive, and that he, like other Soldiers, would gladly do it all over again.
“It’s been 16 years since that night, and some of the men in this room were there and witnessed those events. We all knew that this was just another mission where some of us got hurt and we considered ourselves lucky to be bringing everyone back to the [forward operating base] alive,” Smith said.
He closed his remarks with the words of the Wounded Warriors Creed:
"Though I am wounded, I will always be a warrior. I will never give up, nor quit in the face of adversity. I will do my best in all that I do and achieve. I will not allow my injuries to limit me, and most of all, I will never forget my fallen comrades or leave a fellow injured warrior behind."