On Valentine’s Day, two members of Fort Rucker’s Noncommissioned Officer Academy each received a heart made of purple instead of red, along with the thanks of a grateful nation.
Sgt. 1st Class Carlos R. Porres Jr., a 15C/W Senior Leader Course small group leader, and Staff Sgt. Deanna M. Lucchesi, a Senior Leader Course instructor, were each awarded the Purple Heart, the nation’s oldest military decoration, for wounds received in action in Iraq in 2020, during a combined in-person and virtual ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum Feb. 14, 2022.
Ceremony host Gen. Paul E. Funk II, commanding general, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, thanked the awardees and their families for their service and sacrifice.
“On a day like today when we talk about hearts and love, I can think of no finer tribute than to award a couple of Purple Hearts, because that constitutes love of each other, love of Nation, and love of our way of life,” Funk said.
“We’re all immensely proud of what these (Soldiers) did, who they are, and what they stand for,” Funk said.
Funk said America is worth the sacrifices its heroes are willing to make to ensure the Army uniform continues to represent two things around the globe—hope and fear.
“Hope for the downtrodden, for our allies, for those who seek a better way of life, for those who need our assistance, for those who need a helping hand. And it is fear in the hearts of our enemies because they know that when the Army puts its boots on the ground America means business. Anytime, anywhere the United States Army will win because winning matters,” Funk said.
On Jan. 8, 2020, Porres served as a Gray Eagle Unmanned Aircraft Systems operator, and Lucchesi served as a Gray Eagle repairer, with Company D, 82nd Aviation Regiment at Al-Asad Airbase, Iraq as part of Task Force Scarecrow, when their unit came under attack by the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces.
Multiple Iranian Qiam-1 short range ballistic missiles struck the hangars, maintenance facilities, living quarters and other support facilities primarily used by Task Force Scarecrow personnel.
Porres recalled the warning he received of an imminent threat that night as he piloted a Gray Eagle remotely from his ground control station.
“Within minutes one missile hit approximately seven meters from where I was, a second hit shortly after,” he said. “I continued to fly the aircraft trying to return it, until I completely lost link with the aircraft.”
His ground control station was shaken and destroyed by the blasts, and Porres sustained a concussion after he was thrown into a wall and hit by other equipment.
Despite his injury, he focused on assisting other Soldiers to safety and helped ensure there were no U.S. fatalities or loss of aircraft that night.
Concurrently, Lucchesi helped relocate other Soldiers to bunkers out of harm’s way, as fire was spreading from one of the ballistic missiles. As she took accountability and reported up the chain of command, at least two ballistic missiles impacted the ground within 25 meters of her position, resulting in Lucchesi’s own concussion and injury.
Porres said he was grateful for the recognition, and for his family for joining the ceremony via the livestream.
“I’m mostly excited for the Soldiers I was with, as they are being recognized as well,” he said.
Lucchesi, who was flanked by her husband Joshua and their children at the ceremony, said it was an honor to receive the award from Funk, and she felt grateful for everyone’s support.
“I’m glad to finally get a little bit of closure,” Lucchesi said. “It’s something I’ll live with for the rest of my life, but it truly is a great honor to make it home and continue to serve my country and do what I do every day.”
The Purple Heart dates back to the 1780s when it was known as the Badge of Military Merit, established by Gen. George Washington to recognize outstanding valor during the Revolutionary campaigns. It was originally a purple heart made of cloth or silk worn over the left breast.
The decoration was forgotten for more than a century, and was revived in the 1930s with the additional criterion: “A wound, which necessitates treatment by a medical officer, and which is received in action with an enemy of the United States, or as a result of an act of such enemy, may…be construed as resulting from a singularly meritorious act of essential service.”
Since the 1940s, the Purple Heart can only be awarded for being wounded or killed by enemy action.