Killeen, Texas – Thursday, October 6, 2011, left an indelible memory with Army Reserve Master Sgt. Daniel Chafin, an 85th U.S. Army Reserve Support Command Soldier currently mobilized to Fort Hood, Texas.
Forty minutes past midnight, on that day, Chafin, truck commander of a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle crew, along his team, Spc. Joshua Berry, gunner; Spc. Lee Dunbar, driver; and Spc. Joel Hendry, medic were hit by an explosive formed projectile as they traveled south on Main Supply Route Tampa during a convoy escort operations mission from Contingency Operating Base Kalsu to COB Adder in Iraq.
“After the blast hit, I felt an extreme amount of pressure in my skull cavity,” said Chafin, who is currently mobilized as the Mobilization Demobilization Operations Center Noncommissioned Officer in Charge, 2-360th Training Support Battalion, 120th Multi-functional Training Brigade. “The rest of the symptoms, the persistent headaches, blurry vision, not thinking and speaking clearly, and nausea began to slowly creep up and intensify on me and my crew.”
Chafin, a seasoned veteran with two combat deployments, had experience in more than 30 to 40 missions prior to the blast during his third deployment. He mentioned that it was a routine mission and there were no clues that the blast would occur.
“There were no indicators that something was wrong at that location. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, and the general populace that would be out at that time wasn’t driving around to avoid the area,” said Chafin. “I suspect that there was probably someone watching the level of activity coming in and out of the Forward Operating Base. So, I assume they caught an area where the activity was low, and that’s when they placed the Improvised Explosive Devise.”
Although the blast did minimal damage to the convoy’s equipment, its impact was still strong enough to throw Chafin’s gunner to one side of the vehicle’s turret. He and his entire crew suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries. Despite the attack, Chafin asked his leadership to let him remain on the deployment and recover from his injuries.
“I just had this feeling inside me that I didn’t think I did anything special. Coming under attack was part of the job. I wasn’t going home because of this event unless I had no other choice,” Chafin said. “Soldiers were important to me, and I wanted to lead them from the beginning all the way to the end of the deployment.”
After Chafin recovered, he returned to his teammates and participated in future missions with them.
The attack happened in 2011; however, Chafin’s leaders presented him with the Purple Heart on April 5, 2023 at First Army’s Division West Headquarters on Fort Hood, Texas. The leaders were instrumental in Chafin receiving the award after so many years. Command Sgt. Major David Sayers, Command Sergeant Major, 2-338th TSBN, explained why he wanted Chafin to receive the award.
“It’s just recognizing what he did,” said Sayers. “The Soldier sacrificed, and he was entitled to it. It was a great opportunity for us to take care of the Soldier, and it’s going to change his life.”
The administrative process to get Chafin the award took between six and eight months.
“Chafin mentioned during (section training) that he went through an IED and suffered TBI,” said Sayers. “I told him, ‘I’ve known you for a very long time. I’ve been your first sergeant and battalion command sergeant major, I know you don’t have a Purple Heart. Have you thought about the changes in Army policy that would get you one?’
Sayers went on to share that Chafin did not think about obtaining the award.
“So, at that time, myself, Chafin, our first sergeant and personnel section went to work,” said Sayers. “We got the sworn statements and paperwork, went through all the administrative stuff, and got it submitted up to the chain of command, all the way to Human Resource Command so the packet could finally be approved, and the Soldier could be recognized now, 12 years after the fact.”
Maj. General Joseph Edwards, Commanding General of First Army Division West, acknowledged that some Soldiers had combat wounds that were visible and invisible.
“Obviously, I wish our Soldiers could go through a career of selfless service to this great nation with no seen and unseen injuries, but that is, unfortunately, not the case in this high-risk profession that we undertake. And I think it’s only fitting for those Soldiers who are injured in combat operations, whether it’s as gruesome as missing a limb or maybe not so outwardly as gruesome, as a TBI such as this case. Either way, they are injured, and these injuries affect them for the rest of their lives. And I think the Purple Heart is a fitting tribute to their selfless service to this great nation and to the United States Army.”
Chafin, a grocery night manager, explained why he continued his Army Reserve service.
“I just wanted to continue to lead, train, develop and mentor other Soldiers as they come up,” said Chafin. “I wanted to share my knowledge to all of them before I ultimately retired.”
Sgt. 1st Class Alicia Tamayo, Observer Coach/Trainer, 120th Infantry Brigade, praised Chafin’s career mentorship.
“He has a different way of thinking, and sometimes you need that outside perspective and another way of thinking to approach a problem,” said Tamayo. “He really gets your gears thinking so you can find the right answer within Army Regulation to solve whatever problem you have.”
Finally, Chafin’s wife, Rachel, described her feelings about her husband’s receipt of the Purple Heart.
“I’m absolutely not surprised that he would get any type of award in his career. I know that his career means so much to him. He’s the type of person who puts absolutely everything into his job. He’s willing to make whatever sacrifices he needs to make for his brothers and sisters in arms and his country.”