Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kuwait: Minnesota Guard Soldier earns second Purple Heart

By Army Spc. Mathew Schlueter
1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Red Bull Infantry Division

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait  - Army Spc. Skeeter R. Tomczak joined an honored group of Soldiers by receiving his second Purple Heart on Dec. 31 from Army Lt. Col. Eddie Frizell, the commander of 1st Squadron, 94th Cavalry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, while stationed here.

“The colonel told me he never expected to be handing out this award; he expressed how proud he was,” said Tomczak.

Tomczak, an M2 gunner in the lead Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle, was honored for wounds he received from an improvised explosive device detonation during a route clearance mission from Victory Base Complex, Iraq, to Al Asad, Iraq, Oct. 5.

“An IED went off on the right side of us,” recalls Tomczak. “I dropped down into the vehicle to make sure everyone was ok.”

After Tomczak verified that his crew was ok, he jumped back up into the turret to engage the individuals who set off the IED.

“I was trying to find them through my thermal scope, but it wasn’t working,” said Tomczak.

Half of the scope was blown off during the IED explosion.

At that moment, Tomczak noticed a sharp pain in his elbow and dropped back down into the vehicle. After further inspection by his truck commander, Army Sgt. Cade Gornick, Tomczak had come to the realization that he had taken shrapnel in his arm from the blast.

Army Pvt. Jason Gates, sitting in the back of the MRAP, rendered aid to Tomczak’s arm, which temporarily stopped the bleeding until a medic was able to tend to Tomczak’s wounds.

“Gates patched up Tomczak and then jumped on the gun, so we could continue on the mission,” said Gornick.

Searching for IEDs is not out of the norm for Tomczak, as this is the second Purple Heart he has received.

The first Purple Heart was awarded to him on the brigade’s 22-month deployment to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in Feburary 2007, after an IED exploded next to his Humvee while on a short haul convoy from LSA Anaconda, Iraq, to Forward Operating Base Spiker, Iraq.

“The first IED I went through was by far worse, because it was the first,” said Tomczak.

He continued on to say, “After going through an event like that, it changes you. I know there are Soldiers who have never gone through the experiences I have, and I am thankful for that.”

When asked about what he was most thankful for after his second IED, Tomczak simply replied, “I’m glad it happened to me and not somebody else.”

Although Tomczak is thankful most Soldiers have not experienced what he has, Gornick was working side-by-side with Tomczak in the same truck when both IEDs went off. Gornick was the driver of the Humvee during the last deployment and is now the truck commander of Tomczak’s MRAP during this deployment.

“We are the luckiest unlucky people you will ever meet,” Gornick exclaimed. “I knew the day they paired us up on this deployment, we were going to get blown up again.”

Despite everything they’ve been through, Gornick was still able to say with a smile on his face, “I am very proud of Tomczak.”

After taking a few moments to reflect on his ceremony, Tomczak said, “If you look back at the people who have two Purple Hearts, you can’t help but have the utmost respect for them, and to find myself now in that category, it’s a real honor.”

Through the SPP, the Florida National Guard is partnered with Guyana and the Regional Security System (RSS) – an international agreement for the defense and security of the eastern Caribbean region.

“We take our role in the State Partnership Program very seriously,” Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr. said. “Our growing role of building partnership capacity in the Regional Security System and in Guyana is important to Florida and our Nation.

“The SPP is helping provide a stabilizing global presence,” Titshaw added. “Its effect on future international relationships is a worthwhile investment.”

The SPP supports U.S. national interests and security cooperation goals by engaging partner nations via military, socio-political and economic conduits at the local, state and national level.

The SPP emerged 20 years ago, and links state National Guards with the defense ministries of partner nations. Currently the SPP includes 63 military-to-military partnerships with other nations.

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