CAMP RAMADI, Iraq - U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates presented the Purple Heart to Spc. Shawn M. Mason during a ceremony at Camp Ramadi, Iraq, Sept. 1.Specialist Mason, a Harrisburg, Pa., native, and a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Advise and Assist Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, United States Division - Center, received the Purple Heart for injuries he suffered from an RKG-3 grenade attack near Fallujah, Iraq, Aug. 9.Specialist Mason said his squad was returning from an advising mission with key leaders at an Iraqi Police district headquarters near Fallujah, when he noticed a man walking, and then running, toward the convoy with what Spc. Mason said appeared to be an orange bag in his hand. By the time he radioed to the machine-gunner to cover the man, it was too late. The man threw an RKG-3 that, upon explosion, shredded the right, front side of the armored vehicle. Specialist Mason, the driver, took shrapnel through his jaw."Everything went into slow motion," Spc. Mason said. "There was a loud boom, then a flash and a lot of smoke. My instincts told me to keep driving. It felt like we drove about a half-mile, when actually, we only drove about 100 meters."Specialist Mason said once the area was cleared, he and other members of his truck were evacuated to nearby Camp Fallujah, before being returning to Camp Ramadi by convoy."I am very happy the situation wasn't worse than it was," he said. "I am still here today, along with the rest of the people in my truck. It's great knowing no one was seriously hurt or injured."
Sergeant First Class Tracy Felts, the platoon sergeant of Spc. Mason's platoon in HHC, is also a Purple Heart recipient."(Mason and I) share some of the same metal from being down range," Sgt. Felts said. "We have both been wounded in combat, and we will always have that in common."Sergeant Felts said he notices a difference in the members of the squad who were attacked that day in August."They understand the realization of where they are now," Sgt. Felts said. "They always knew they were in Iraq, but when they were engaged by the enemy, it all changed. They know now what's at stake."Specialist Mason has 10 more months in Iraq, likely going on many more missions outside the wire to train, advise and assist Iraqi Security Forces so they can provide a safer, more stable country for Iraqi citizens.He said he learned some new tips from the attack that will help him and his unit remain prepared on future missions."I'm a lot more aware of things I didn't know before the attack," Spc. Mason said. "The attacker had on tennis shoes and Iraqis generally do not wear tennis shoes because of the heat. Also, there was a man filming the attack on video that ended up on the Internet. The city was desolate, the IP checkpoints were abandoned. Those are all clues something is not right."Now the attack is a memory, a teaching point and a bonding opportunity.Specialist Mason said he will reflect positively on his Purple Heart."When I see the (Purple Heart), the memories are definitely going to be about how proud I am to serve my country," he said. "I'm proud of what I am doing (in the Army) and proud that I'm here serving in Iraq. It is hard when I am out on mission to put something like (the attack) in the back of my mind, it having been done to me first hand. But I still feel focused. This is what I signed up to do. I'm here for the long haul."