ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Insurgents ambushed and severely injured Staff Sgt. Mitch Court during his third combat tour to Iraq in 2007. He no longer wears the Army uniform but is proud to serve his fellow Warfighters by helping to improve military vehicles.

"I'm still a Soldier in my heart," he said. "The civilian clothes are just a cover. My mind and my heart are still a Soldier. You can put civilian clothes on, but it doesn't necessarily make you a civilian."

Court visited the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command headquarters here Dec. 3. Brig. Gen. Harold Greene, RDECOM deputy commanding general, presented Court with a command coin and expressed his appreciation for his contributions.

"We have to keep focused on why we do what we do," Greene said. "We do it because there are great Americans defending our freedom. We are proud of you."

During a patrol in Baqubah, Iraq, the enemy fired on Court's squad. He was shot, lost consciousness and subsequently underwent surgery to his legs, face, lung and ribs. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Valor medals.

He now works for Round Table Defense, a contractor for APG's Army Evaluation Center as a program analyst on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle program's Self-Protection Adaptive Roller Kit and Digital Backbone. He previously worked for BAE Systems as a manufacturing manager on Bradley Fight Vehicles.

"I still care about Soldiers deeply. To see what you're producing going forward, you know you're doing the right thing," he said.

Court attends Harford Community College, where he was honored Nov. 8 during its Military Appreciation Day. He will earn a business management degree with two more credits and plans to continue his education and work to support Soldiers.

Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin, RDECOM's senior noncommissioned officer, said that although Court's injuries prevented him continuing to serve as a Soldier, his work as a civilian is key to Warfighters' success.

"There are a lot of missions outside the wire. I want to thank you for your continued service," Marin said as he presented Court with a camouflaged Army backpack.

"Even though you're not wearing the uniform anymore, what you're doing is critical to our Warfighters in the field," Marin added.

Court reflected on the many lessons he learned during combat. Moving forward despite obstacles, growing through adversity, are vital, he said.

"Leadership comes in many styles. You learn by success and failure. Take bits and pieces from all the leadership styles to develop your own," he said.

"Sometimes you can do everything right and still fail. It took me a long time to accept that in a combat situation."

Court said he has taken time to develop relationships, whether as a Soldier or civilian, with those at all levels of an organization. He recalled the story of Brig. Gen. David L. Grange, who was responsible for U.S. forces and operations in Macedonia and Kosovo, talking with him on a Bosnian hillside in 1997 when he was just a private.

"Regardless of what rank you acquire while in the military, always look toward the privates. Sit down and talk to them," Court said. "Be approachable because that private might become your war hero in the future."