September 21, 2020, 16:00

29 soldiers receive Purple Hearts following Iran missile attack

29 soldiers receive Purple Hearts following Iran missile attack

Twenty-nine U.S. Army soldiers will be awarded the Purple Heart for their injuries in Iran’s ballistic missile attack on Al Asad airbase in western Iraq in early January.

There were 110 U.S. service members suffering from concussion-like injuries following the attack, but U.S. Central Command said a traumatic brain injury (TBI) diagnosis did not automatically qualify a service member to receive the award that is given to those wounded in combat.

“The first six Purple Hearts approved for injuries sustained during a Jan. 8, 2020 Iranian ballistic missile attack on Al Assad Air Base in Iraq were awarded to U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait on May 3 and 4, respectively,” Cmdr. Zachary Harrell, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, wrote in an email. “The awards were the first of 29 approved by Lt. Gen. Pat White, commander, Combined Joint Task Force- Operation Inherent Resolve, following a review in accordance with Army and Air Force regulations.”

MORE: Pentagon now says 50 service members suffered brain injuries from Iran attack

The remainder of the medals will be awarded later this week.

First Lt. Abigail Holstein is presented with the Purple Heart medal by 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade Commander, Col. Greg Fix, on May 3, 2020, for her injuries sustained during the ballistic missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on January 8.First Lt. Abigail Holstein is presented with the Purple Heart medal by 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade Commander, Col. Greg Fix, on May 3, 2020, for her injuries sustained during the ballistic missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on January 8.Sgt. Sydney Mariette/U.S. Army

“It is important to note that a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) diagnosis does not automatically qualify a Service Member for Purple Heart eligibility or awarding,” Harrell explained. “The CJTF-OIR process was designed to be a fair and impartial proceeding that evaluated each case in accordance with applicable regulations.”

Initially the Pentagon said that there had been no injuries as a result of the January ballistic missile attack on the sprawling Iraqi base in western Iraq that housed up to 2,000 U.S. military personnel.

MORE: President Trump minimizes concussion-like injuries in Iraq attack as merely 'headaches'

The blast waves from the missile strikes on the base resonated at some of the bunkers, particularly those that were close to impact areas, where U.S. forces had sheltered ahead of the attack. That ultimately led to some diagnoses of concussions that did not manifest themselves until a week later. In the weeks that followed up to 110 service members were diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms, which included headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light, restlessness and nausea.

A picture taken on Jan. 13, 2020, during a press tour organised by the US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group, shows a view of the damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing US and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar.A picture taken on Jan. 13, 2020, during a press tour organised by the US-led coalition fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group, shows a view of the damage at Ain al-Asad military airbase housing US and other foreign troops in the western Iraqi province of Anbar.Ayman Henna/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Those with serious symptoms were sent to U.S. military medical facilities in Germany and the United States for further treatment. The majority of the personnel eventually returned to their units in Iraq.

CJTF-OIR, the U.S. military command in Iraq, reviewed 80 recommendations for service members to receive the medal, but ultimately decided that only 29 met the criteria.

Spc. Robert Jones is presented the Purple Heart medal by 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade Commander, Col. Greg Fix, on May 3, 2020, for his injuries sustained during the ballistic missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on January 8.Spc. Robert Jones is presented the Purple Heart medal by 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade Commander, Col. Greg Fix, on May 3, 2020, for his injuries sustained during the ballistic missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on January 8.Sgt. Sydney Mariette/U.S. Army

The U.S. Air Force concurred with the command’s decision not to award the medal to two airmen who had been among those being considered.

MORE: Defense secretary says Trump 'very concerned' about Iran attack brain injury victims

As the first reports emerged that service members were experiencing TBI symptoms President Donald Trump seemed to minimize the injuries as “headaches” and as being “not very serious.” His initial comments were controversial at the time since traumatic brain injuries are considered to be the signature wound of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper later said that Trump was “very concerned” and “understands the nature of these injuries.”

First Lt. Abigail Holstein salutes Col. Greg Fix, brigade commander for the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, May 3, 2020, after being presented with the Purple Heart medal for her injuries sustained during the ballistic missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on Jan. 8, 2020.First Lt. Abigail Holstein salutes Col. Greg Fix, brigade commander for the 34th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, May 3, 2020, after being presented with the Purple Heart medal for her injuries sustained during the ballistic missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, on Jan. 8, 2020.Sgt. Sydney Mariette/U.S. Army

The Iranian missile attack was in retaliation for the U.S. missile strike in Baghdad that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, then-head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

While Iran has stepped back from any additional direct military action, it has continued to support Iraqi Shiite militias that have carried out subsequent attacks on U.S. military facilities in Iraq, prompting retaliatory U.S. military strikes.

On Monday, Esper told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the U.S. sees continued Iranian support for those groups as a threat and “we have consolidated and hardened our positions” inside Iraq.

Sourse: abcnews.go.com

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