Five injured in most recent Afghan firefight awarded Purple Hearts

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BAGRAM AIRBASE, Afghanistan, Aug. 2, 2002 -- Five soldiers were awarded Purple Hearts July 29, for wounds sustained in a firefight near Khost, Afghanistan, on July 27.

Spc. Michael Rewakowski and Pfc. Brian Worth, both from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, were treated in the hospital at Bagram Airbase and released. The other three, Spc. Christopher Vedvick of the 82nd Airborne Division and two Special Forces soldiers, were transported to Germany for treatment.

Special Forces troops and local Afghans were searching a house for heavy weapons in the village of Ab Khail, when grenades and heavy machine-gun fire spilled over the high mud walls of a large family compound.

"The perception at home is that things here have died down," Rewakowski said. "Then you see that grenade come out of the wall and those perceptions go out the window."

Rewakowski and Worth were positioned around the outside of a building securing the perimeter in support of the special operations mission when a Russian grenade was thrown out of an opening in the side of the building, they said.

Worth, who is the company's radio operator and was close to the building, saw "a little round thing" hit a tree near him bounce off and land on the ground. "A couple of people saw it, yelled grenade and dove for the ditch," he said.

He tried to help the gunner get out of the way and get himself around the corner of the building when it went off.

"Then we heard small arms fire and people started pouring out of the building," Worth said.

Worth saw Rewakowski attempt to pick up Vedvick, to get him out of the way, when both were knocked over by another grenade blast.

"I knew he was injured because he was screaming," Rewakowski said.

The enemy was lobbing grenades over the walls of the building, "at whoever happened to be around," Worth said.

The group pulled back to allow air support to take care of the rest of the building, Worth said.

Once the F-18 Hornets were out of munitions, UH-60 Black Hawks went in, and when they were out of munitions, HC-130 Hercules concluded the air support. Once the HC-130s were done, the compound was leveled, said Capt. Chris Cirino, a company commander in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Cirino saw Worth's wounds and told him to go to the medic. To which Worth responded, "No sir, I want to stay here and fight."

"He's a hero in my mind," Cirino said.

At a press conference July 31, Rewakowski told reporters he was sure that whoever started the fight had been eliminated when it was over.

"As far as I know this is the first time the enemy has stood and fought since Operation Anaconda," Cirino said. "[The enemy] was prepared to die that day.

"These are dedicated people who believe in what they are doing, as twisted as it is," Cirino said.

While at the hospital, Cirino told the soldiers that they took care of business, and now it's time to let the medics take care of them.

Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, Combined Joint Task Force-180 commander and many others stopped by the hospital to thank them, including the company's executive officer, a Red Cross manager and civil affairs personnel.

Of the three soldiers transported to Germany for treatment, one sustained a shrapnel wound near the eye, and is expected to lose vision in that eye. The other sustained a vascular injury to the lower part of one leg. The third soldier was transferred to the University of Homburg for surgery, and no additional information on that soldier's condition has been released.

Rewakowski and Worth returned to duty at Bagram.

Rewakowski said he is proud of his purple heart, even though it was the last medal he wanted to get.

"We were not concerned about medals," Worth said. "We were more concerned about our friends."

"Both soldiers were injured trying to save other soldiers," Cirino said. "They were heroes that day."