Two hearts become one
1 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Sgt. 1st Class Daine W. Kvasager, unmanned aircraft systems operator, 2-13th Aviation Regiment, received his Purple Heart in a Jan. 26 ceremony at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for wounds received in action Jan. 8, 2020, at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, during the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo by Tanja Linton)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
2 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Rebecca A. McMillan, all-source intelligence analyst, 305th Military Intelligence Battalion, received her Purple Heart in a Jan. 27 ceremony at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for wounds received in action Jan. 8, 2020, at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, during the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo by Tanja Linton)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
3 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Col. Richard P. Tucker, commander of 1st Aviation Brigade, pins the Purple Heart on Sgt. 1st Class Daine W. Kvasager, unmanned aircraft systems operator with 2-13th Aviation Regiment, during a Jan. 26 ceremony at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for wounds received in action Jan. 8, 2020, at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, during the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo by Tanja Linton)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
4 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lt. Col. Adam Forrest, commander of 305th Military Intelligence Battalion, presents the Purple Heart to Staff Sgt. Rebecca McMillan, all-source intelligence analyst with 305th MI Bn., during a Jan. 27 ceremony at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for wounds received in action Jan. 8, 2020, at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, during the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo by Tanja Linton)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
5 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (From left) Sgt. 1st Class Daine W. Kvasager, his son, his mother Peggy A. Kvasager, his daughter and son, Staff Sgt. Rebecca A. McMillan and soon-to-be father-in-law Clayton J. Kvasager, celebrate the long-awaited presentation of Purple Hearts for wounds received in action during the Jan. 8, 2020, ballistic missile attack against U.S. forces at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq. Purple Hearts were presented in two separate ceremonies on Jan. 26 and 27, 2022, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Daine and Rebecca plan to marry in September 2023. (Photo Credit: (U.S. Army photo by Tanja Linton)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
6 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Center) Sgt. 1st Class Daine W. Kvasager stands with fellow members of Delta Company, 82nd Aviation Regiment (Task Force Scarecrow) while forward deployed to Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, in 2020. Kvasager received a Purple Heart Jan. 26, 2022, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for wounds received in action during the ballistic missile attack against U.S. forces at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, on Jan. 8, 2020. (Photo Credit: (Courtesy photo)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
7 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Staff Sgt. Rebecca A. McMillan, all-source intelligence analyst, stands in front of the bunker she took shelter in during the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces on Jan. 8, 2020, at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq. McMillan received her Purple Heart in a ceremony Jan. 27, 2022, at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for wounds received in action while forward deployed with Delta Company, 82nd Aviation Regiment (Task Force Scarecrow). (Photo Credit: (Courtesy photo)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
8 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – On Jan. 8, 2020, Sgt. 1st Class Daine W. Kvasager and Staff Sgt. Rebecca A. McMillan were among the more than 1,000 U.S. military and coalition forces at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, when Iran launched the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces. Eleven ballistic missiles, each carrying a 1,600-pound warhead, struck the hangars, maintenance facilities, living quarters and other support facilities. This week the Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system operator and the all-source intelligence analyst received their Purple Hearts for wounds received in action; and next year, the two plan to be married in September. (Photo Credit: (Courtesy photo)) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two hearts become one
9 / 9 Show Caption + Hide Caption – On Jan. 8, 2020, Sgt. 1st Class Daine W. Kvasager and Staff Sgt. Rebecca A. McMillan were among the more than 1,000 U.S. military and coalition forces at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, when Iran launched the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces. Eleven ballistic missiles, each carrying a 1,600-pound warhead, struck the hangars, maintenance facilities, living quarters and other support facilities. This week the Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system operator and the all-source intelligence analyst received their Purple Hearts for wounds received in action; and next year, the two plan to be married in September. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. – On Jan. 8, 2020, Sgt. 1st Class Daine W. Kvasager and Staff Sgt. Rebecca A. McMillan were among the more than 1,000 U.S. military and coalition forces at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, when Iran launched the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces.

This week the Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft system operator and the all-source intelligence analyst saw their selfless service and unwavering dedication to duty in the face of danger formally recognized for wounds received in action; and next year, the two plan to be married in September.

The 2-13th Aviation Regiment and the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion held heartfelt ceremonies here for Kvasager and McMillan respectively presenting the Soldiers with the nation’s oldest military award, the Purple Heart, originally known as Gen. George Washington’s Badge of Military Merit.

As Col. Richard P. Tucker, commander of 1st Aviation Brigade and host of Kvasager’s Purple Heart ceremony Jan. 26, introduced the Kvasager’s parents, children and fiancée, he noted the significance of being able to present the award in person at the 2-13th Aviation Regiment’s Nicka Hall (Hangar 5).

“Not everyone who receives this award can stand up to receive it,” Tucker said. “This is pretty significant…that these folks are here to stand and smile and shake our hands.”

Lt. Col. Adam Forrest, commander, 305th Military intelligence Battalion shared a similar sentiment at McMillan’s Purple Heart ceremony Jan. 28 at the Brown Parade Field flag pole.

“It’s pretty amazing that you’re standing with us today, and that your family is here, and that we’re pinning this on your chest today,” Forrest said.

Kvasager and McMillan were both attached to Delta Company, 82nd Aviation Regiment (Task Force Scarecrow) and deployed to Al Asad Airbase when intelligence reports indicated there could be retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani five days earlier on Jan. 3, 2020.

McMillan, serving as the intelligence/security (S2) noncommissioned officer in charge of Task Force Scarecrow, said she had some prior knowledge of what might happen, but was “praying it wasn’t the worst case scenario.”

Kvasager volunteered to help put an emergency unmanned aircraft in the air to provide watch for American troops on the base. It was during his shift that 11 ballistic missiles, each carrying a 1,600-pound warhead, struck the hangars, maintenance facilities, living quarters and other support facilities. Two ballistic missiles impacted the ground within 50 meters of his position.

“The training kicked in,” Kvasager said describing how he maintained focus and kept the aircraft in the air. “We do a really good job of training to fight and at that time, I knew I had a job to do and that was it.

“I was worried about who had been killed. It wasn’t a question of ‘if’ to me, it was a question of ‘how many.’ To my amazement it was zero fatalities – many casualties – but zero fatalities.

“I also had some thoughts about not getting to watch my kids grow up and that someone else would have to tell them about who their dad was.”

The explosions left him concussed and injured, but even in his dazed and injured state, Kvasager continued to fly the Gray Eagle scanning the base for casualties and responding to ground troops over the radio. It was only when he lost link with the aircraft that he left the control station and gathered the rest of his platoon.

“Sergeant Kvasager, actions speak louder than words,” Tucker continued. “My parents have been telling me that since I was [your children’s] size; and your actions overshadow anybody else’s words. This is one more example of those who have displayed that courage, that action when they were tested and had a decision to make. You are a hero among us, teaching, supporting and involved in everyday operations and continuing to make a difference.

“From all of us, we’re proud of you; we’re proud of what you stand for; we’re proud of what you did, and we can’t thank you enough,” he said, noting Kvasager’s actions greatly contributed to zero U.S. fatalities or loss of aircraft in this attack.

Kvasager addressed the audience saying, “This isn’t the kind of award that you get to thank people for, but I have a lot to be thankful for.”

While nearly 45 percent of the service members assigned to Task Force Scarecrow were medically evacuated after the missile attacks, Kvasager and McMillan remained behind another six months to complete the mission.

“I was happy to not be evac’ed, even though I probably should have been, but I just wanted to be with my troops, my family,” he said.

“But immediately afterwards I could tell things weren’t quite right,” Kvasager explained. “I couldn’t speak as well as normal. I couldn’t write or text; I was trying to text my family and kept messing up words. I could tell I’d been concussed immediately after and even those symptoms didn’t subside for months after. And even years later, I still have some of them.”

Kvasager and McMillan are among the more than 100 service members diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries from the attack.

At the time of the strike, McMillan was in a thin concrete “bunker” that was covered in sandbags but had open endcaps. A missile hit their living quarters, just 30 meters away.

“TBI is a very real injury,” her commander, Forrest, said. “How incredible is it that the two of you were there together when this was happening, went through this together and walked away on the other side? I’m blown away by the magnitude of that.”

“It’s super conflicting, I know the extent of my injuries, they’re invisible injuries, so it’s hard to feel good about getting the Purple Heart; I’m not sure anyone ever feels good about getting it,” Kvasager said. “But for myself, it’s good because my Mom and Dad are really proud, and it’s something for my kids to hang onto and touch when they’re older and say, ‘that was my dad and that’s why my dad is different from before.’ It’s something tangible.”

Kvasager’s mother, Peggy A. Kvasager, said she can’t let her mind wander when she thinks about what could have happened.

“I’m so proud, but I wish he didn’t get the Purple Heart,” she said referring to the suffering caused by the traumatic brain injuries that qualified him for the award. “I wish no one had to get a Purple Heart.”

The fact that no one was killed is a testament to how great our armed forces are, said Kvasager’s father, Clayton J. Kvasager.

“No one comes out of combat without a scrape, but we’re super proud, a little shook and very thankful,” he added. “After a miracle like this, it’s pretty hard to find something to complain about.

“[Daine] is very thoughtful of the people around him and probably isn’t gonna take enough credit for what he does, but I’ve been telling him since he was a kid in hockey, that ‘the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back,’” Clayton said with a catch in his voice.

Kvasager and McMillan see a traumatic brain injury specialist in Phoenix, Arizona, twice a week. For Kvasager, the biggest effect has been on his eyes which is why he can no longer fly unmanned aircraft.

“I have to rebuild the neural pathways,” he said. “My exercise is limited due to a fluctuating heart rate, and there are lots of emotional changes.”

Kvasager is currently assigned as a Gray Eagle instructor/writer and is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the RIGOR Field Training Exercise where he trains advanced individual training students on basic warrior tasks, battle drills and military occupational specialty-specific training.

After 18 months of occupational therapy with little to no improvement, however, McMillan is being medically processed out of the Army.

“I have a lot of cognitive deficits and a lot of challenges with my speech,” she said. “As an intel analyst I have to brief a lot…and I can’t process words correctly anymore. It’s like the words that are in my brain aren’t coming to my mouth.

“The biggest thing is that as an intel analyst you’re on the computer all the time, and I get migraines after 30 minutes because my eyes blur and don’t process things correctly.

Leaving the Army now was never the plan for McMillan.

“I was a lifer,” she said. “I begged to go on the deployment. I begged to come here as an instructor as a stepping stone in my career. It’s just upsetting I can’t do it anymore, but I think it’s the best for me.

“I’ve kinda come to terms with it. I can’t perform like I used to anymore, I don’t feel like I’m up to par like I was, so I thinks it’s the best.”

McMillan plans to go back to college to finish her degree after she gets out of the Army.

As Kvasager and McMillan plan their wedding and their future together, they both appreciate going through life with someone who understands exactly what they’re going through as they learn to live with traumatic brain injuries.

“I couldn’t ask for someone better to understand me and what I’m going through, than someone who is also going through it,” Kvasager said.

McMillan agreed.

“TBI messes with your emotions, and I can just say, ‘I’m having one of those days,’ and he knows exactly what I mean,” she said.

Kvasager’s father, and McMillan’s soon-to-be father-in-law, Clayton, said he finds comfort in knowing the two will be able to help each other through those tough days.

“Seeing them together is a joy,” he said. “Knowing they have each other to lean on and go through life together sharing such a special bond and supporting each other means everything to us.”

(Editor’s note: Additional news coverage is available in our video Fort Report along with photo albums for Kvasager and McMillan.)

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Fort Huachuca is home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM)/9th Army Signal Command and more than 48 supported tenants representing a diverse, multiservice population. Our unique environment encompasses 946 square miles of restricted airspace and 2,500 square miles of protected electronic ranges, key components to the national defense mission.

Located in Cochise County, in southeast Arizona, about 15 miles north of the border with Mexico, Fort Huachuca is an Army installation with a rich frontier history. Established in 1877, the Fort was declared a national landmark in 1976.

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