Mistakenly given Purple Heart, DLA worker likely to get civilian equivalent
WIESBADEN, Germany — One winter many years ago, Don Reed decided to throw away the cache of swimming awards he had won as a kid.
So into a trash can and out to the curb went ribbons, medals and trophies.
“I was tired of carrying the stuff around,” Reed recalled recently.
It didn’t matter the heap of hardware and fabric represented tangible proof of what a splashing success he was in the pool. Reed and his wife, Janice, were settling into a new home and he wanted to cut the clutter.
“The medals didn’t mean squat to me,” Reed said. “It was always the race that mattered.”
That may explain how Reed can display humor and humility in light of a confusing series of events on Jan. 31 that saw him receive the Purple Heart, only to have it revoked. Instead, the Army and his bosses at the Defense Logistics Agency-Europe hope to present Reed with the Defense of Freedom Medal, a new award designed to be the civilian equivalent of the Purple Heart.
“There was an administrative mistake that was made and it was caught,” said Jack Hooper, spokesman for the Defense Logistics Agency, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Va. “There’s no doubt he deserves recognition for what happened.”
Reed, 47, suffered multiple injuries in a Nov. 25 mortar attack on a camp south of Baghdad. One piece of shrapnel grazed the back of his head while a second pierced his left calf, leaving quarter-size entry and exit wounds. Another piece the size of a green pea remains lodged in Reed’s right leg.
The mortar that injured Reed was one of eight fired into the camp by insurgents shortly after sunset. Reed had just finished dinner and was lying on his cot when the attack occurred. Shrapnel struck him as he made his way from his tent to a nearby bunker.
“It felt like I got hit with a hammer,” Reed said in an interview last week.
Reed, the DLA customer service representative for 1st Armored Division, was whisked off to an Army hospital in Baghdad for treatment. He returned to work 48 hours later and stayed on the job through the end of the year.
While DLA backed the effort to award Reed the Purple Heart, agency officials said it was the 1st AD that put its name and weight behind it.
“If he didn’t get recognized, he’d be OK with it,” said Howard Crockett, a colleague who has known Reed for over a decade. “That’s the way Don is.”
The Purple Heart ceremony occurred in Wiesbaden. Since DLA-Europe is headquartered there, the event drew a crowd.
Navy Vice Adm. Keith W. Lippert, director of the agency, was host of the brief ceremony.
“I’ve never presented a Purple Heart before,” Lippert said near the end of his opening remarks, “so I’m looking forward to it.”
DLA promoted the event, which, on the surface, seemed odd: a civilian getting the Purple Heart, an award universally associated with the military?
But the current version of Army Regulation 600-8-22, which covers military awards, could not have been any clearer: The Purple Heart, it states, is given “to any member of an Armed Force or any civilian national of the United States” who, in service to the country, “has been wounded or killed” as a result of hostile action by the enemy.
According to the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a veterans group, President Kennedy extended eligibility status to civilians in April 1962.
“I have to admit,” Reed said to his colleagues at the ceremony, “I didn’t know civilians could receive a Purple Heart.”
When the Office of the Secretary of Defense was asked last week how many civilians had ever received the award, the query raised a red flag. Unbeknownst to the Army, Congress rescinded civilian eligibility for the Purple Heart in its fiscal 1998 Defense Authorization Act.
An article about the Reed ceremony appeared in some early Saturday editions of Stars and Stripes, but was withdrawn from later editions at the behest of Hooper, who claimed the award was “unauthorized.”
“It is embarrassing for DLA that it got this far,” Reed said. But the request “went through a lot of hands and nobody realized it wasn’t authorized. But, hey, I had a Purple Heart for a day. Besides, there are more important things out there.”
He was alluding to the troops in Iraq, where Reed spent eight months as DLA representative.
“What those kids have to go through,” said Reed, a former soldier. “There are kids who go out [on the streets] every day. They are the ones really fighting the war. Me? I’m just a desk jockey.”
The Defense of Freedom medal came into existence in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld unveiled it later that month, at least 90 civilians were identified as eligible for the medal.
Jay Phillips, executive director of the Order of the Purple Heart, believes the new medal was a good idea. He described the veterans organization as “the guardians of the Purple Heart,” and said the venerable award should remain an honor reserved for those in uniform.
Civilians “now have a medal to recognize their contributions,” Phillips said, adding that nobody is trying to “belittle anybody” or their efforts.
“They are serving,” he added, “and we honor their service.”
Some DLA personnel interviewed for this story had mixed emotions over the whole issue. To a person, all expressed respect and admiration for the troops, but some questioned a policy that seems to run counter with reality.
The reality, they explained, is that more and more Defense Department civilians are deploying to war zones. And yet a prestigious award that was available to them for 35 years is no longer on the table.
In the case of DLA, three out of four people serving in Iraq are civilians, according to Army Col. David V. Mintus, commander of DLA-Europe. Many of the volunteers work side by side with their military colleagues.
“The chance of [DOD civilian casualties] happening is much greater than it was 10 years ago,” Mintus acknowledged on the morning of the ceremony.
Reed is living proof of that.
“They are asking civilians to be embedded with the troops, to go into harm’s way,” Crockett said. “It should be expanded [to again include civilians]. You’re talking about people who know it’s dangerous, but still go anyway.”
Defense of Freedom medal facts
The purpose of the Defense of Freedom medal is to acknowledge Department of Defense civilian employees who are killed or wounded in the line of duty.
The medal’s eagle and shield reflect the principles of freedom and the defense of these freedoms. The laurel represents honor and high achievement.
The red stripes stand for valor and sacrifice. The wide blue stripe represents strength. The white stripes symbolize liberty. The number of red stripes represents the four terrorist attacks using hijacked airplanes and the single blue stripe represents the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The medal will be awarded to any DOD civilian, including employees of nonappropriated fund activities, who are killed or wounded by hostile action while serving under conditions for which a military member would be eligible for the Purple Heart.
The secretary of defense has authority to award the medal to non-Defense personnel who are otherwise qualified to be awarded the medal based on their involvement in DOD activities.
The eligibility criteria for the medal are aligned closely to the criteria for receiving the Purple Heart. It shall be awarded to employees who are killed or who sustain serious injury as a result of hostile action against the United States, or wounded or killed while rescuing or attempting to rescue another employee or individual subjected to injuries sustained under such conditions. The injuries must have required treatment by a medical officer, and records of medical treatment must have been made a matter of official record.
— Source: Office of the Secretary of Defense