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WTB 'grandma' turned warrior awarded Purple Heart

Email   Print   Share By Gloria Montgomery, WTB Public Affairs
October 10, 2013 | Living
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Lt. Col. Christopher Cook, commander of WTB’s 1st Battalion, congratulates Sgt. Trecia Rodgers following the Purple Heart presentation. Rodgers, who is assigned to Co. B, was recently awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action May 6, 2012, while deployed to Afghanistan. Gloria Montgomery, WTB Public Affairs
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With grandpa Don looking on, Sgt. Trecia Rodgers explains to her oldest grandson, Payton, why George Washington is in the center of the heart-shaped medal. Although too young to understand war, Rodgers said her oldest grandson does understand that his grandma is a Soldier. Gloria Montgomery, WTB Public Affairs
To 5-year-old Payton, the purple-ribbon medallion he cradled in his hand was “pretty neat.” Though too young to understand the sacrifices behind the heart-shaped medal, he does know that it belongs to a Soldier: his grandmother, Warrior Transition Brigade Soldier, Sgt. Trecia Rodgers.

"Oh, he's always wearing my hat and walking around the house in my boots," said the 46-year old grandmother of four who was wounded May 6, 2012, when an enemy's rocket exploded just six feet from her bunk in the tent she shared with seven others at Forward Operation Base Shank, Afghanistan. Thankfully, timing and an empty bunk averted what most likely would have been a casualty.

“The Soldier whose bunk took the direct hit was on duty,” said Rodgers, who, accompanied by her husband of 30 years, was awarded America’s oldest military medal Sept. 20.

Presenting the Purple Heart Medal to Rodgers, who is assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, WTB, was her battalion commander, Lt. Col. Christopher Cook.

"This is an honor for me," said Cook, in presenting the military's 'symbol of courage' to Rodgers, adding that it was his first Purple Heart presentation.

Explosion, then debris

The grandmother of four doesn't remember much about the morning of May 6 other than the deafening boom and the whirlwind of flying debris. She blacked out after that. Mobile, but sore and bruised with shrapnel and burn wounds, the 82nd Airborne Soldier also had suffered a concussion that was identified only after her speech became a mouthful of undistinguishable chatter.

"I really thought I was OK," said the airframes mechanic with the 122nd Aviation Support Battalion, praising the doctors at the traumatic brain injury field clinic in Afghanistan who diagnosed additional issues that earned her a medical flight home. “It was the age factor. At 45, you just don’t recover as quickly as when you were 21.”

Initially assigned to Fort Rucker, Rodgers transferred to Fort Hood WTB November 2012 to be near her terminally ill mother.

Enlisting life-long dream

Joining the Army was a lifelong dream of Rodgers, who admits to playing warrior while riding on her horse on an Indian Reservation in the California desert town near Smoke Tree Valley.

"I even had a base camp," she said of her imaginary war adventures that began when she was five. “I really was a warrior at heart.”

Timing, however, had not been her friend. Marriage, Family, career and her life in Idaho Falls, Idaho, were her priorities, even though she kept her dream of enlisting in her bucket list. Then, in 2006, the Army expanded its enlistment base to citizens in their forties.

On July 13, 2009, with her husband's blessings, she left her job as a benefits specialist in Idaho Falls knowing full well that she would soon be going to war. She was 41 - just two weeks shy of “aging out” of her lifetime dream. She was now a Soldier in the U.S. Army.

Although her heart was set on a cavalry assignment so she could earn her “spurs and Stetson,” the Army had a different agenda.

“The aircraft division really chose me,” she said, “because it was the only school that was available before I turned 42.”

Nevertheless, she was excited to be joining the 82nd Airborne because of its historical lineage.

“They were known for jumping into the heat of battle,” she said, adding that she learned about the airborne unit watching war movies with her father and brother when she was growing up. “It seemed like the 82nd was always featured in the battles.”

But while she was training alongside “baby-faced” kids old enough to be her children, her husband was back at home in Idaho with double-digit worries: The Rodgers’ son, who was in the National Guard, was leaving for Iraq. Although he knew his wife wouldn’t deploy immediately, the thought was still troubling.

“She’s the love of my life,” Don said, adding that it was frightening for him to have his life-long partner go to war. “But I am proud of her,” adding that by the time she left for Afghanistan in 2011, their son had returned safely from Iraq and was out of the National Guard.

Army good fit

Admitting that her mom is pretty head strong, the Rodgers’ daughter, Stefanie, said she knew better then to question her mom when she made the career plunge.

“It does seem to fit her,” she said, who, along with her three children, lives with her mom and dad in Killeen. “She had always wanted to join, and she was going to do what she wanted to do regardless of what I thought."

Today, however, her daughter beams with pride at her mother’s accomplishments, knowing full well what could have been.

“Things could have ended up so differently,” Stefanie said, acknowledging the change in her mother since her return from war. “I’m just grateful she made it back alive.”

The 5-foot-4 inch Rodgers, who exemplifies the warrior spirit of recovery and resiliency, with her attitude, her crisp uniforms and her perfectly coiffed hair, said she hopes to one day be fit for duty. She still has one goal though: earn her airborne wings.

"I couldn't earn my Stetson and spurs, so that's why I wanted to earn my wings," she said, adding that she submitted packet after packet for a shot at airborne school although she knew her entry chances were slim since she was assigned to an aviation support unit. "Still, you try."

No matter how many bumps and hills are ahead of her, Rodgers says being grandma to her four grandsons with a fifth one on the way is what she enjoys best about life. And, she says, the Purple Heart reminds her of how close she came to not coming home.

"It is a mixed emotion really,” she said. “It's both a reminder of what happened, as well as a reminder of what might not have been."
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