Utah soldier finally awarded Bronze Star for service in Iraq
Joshua E. Hansen had already been hit eight times by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) before his mine-protected personnel carrier was struck on March 15, 2007.
Before he lost consciousness, suffering wounds that would knock him out of the war, Hansen scrambled to help the truck commander who was wounded and having trouble breathing.
Six years later, Hansen, now 42, wears a Bronze Star for his "exceptionally meritorious service" during those six dangerous months in which he served as a team leader for 2nd Platoon, Company A of the U.S. Army's 321st Engineers, a reserve unit based partly in Ogden.
The unit cleared routes of bombs so troops could maneuver and bring stability to Al Anbar Province, around Ramadi and Fallujah.
"By willingly traveling on the most dangerous and IED-laded routes â¦ Sgt. Hansen saved an untold amount of lives and military equipment," wrote his commander, Eric Coulson, then an Army captain, in his narrative supporting the medal in 2007. Hansen's "loyalty, honor and personal courage kept his soldiers' motivation high and fears low."
Terry Schow, executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, pinned the medal on Hansen Tuesday at the request of Sen. Orrin Hatch. The senator's office had pressed the Army to award the medal; paperwork apparently had never been filed.
The Bronze Star is the fifth highest combat medal possible.
"It's an important award," said Schow, for whom the ceremony was one of his last official acts. Schow retires on June 28.
Hansen, who lives with his wife and two children in Woods Cross, choked up as he made brief comments at the ceremony, crediting his mother with pursuing the medal.
"I didn't serve this country for a medal," said the 42-year-old. "I served this country for my boys, all the men I served with. For my mother, that wasn't good enough."
Deidre Hansen of Monroe said the family saw his commander's write-up for the medal years ago, and when it didn't come through, she contacted Hatch's office to press for Army action.
"I felt he had earned it and was going through a lot of health issues from being blown up eight times," Deidre Hansen said.
Hansen was a 30-year-old business owner, a mechanic who repaired motorcross cycles for professional racers when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
He joined the Army Reserves because he knew his country would soon be at war.
Hansen said he had envisioned two possible outcomes: He would come home in a box or he would come home whole.
Instead, he spent three months in a San Antonio hospital, recovering from back and neck injuries that still cause chronic pain. He wears hearing aids and is rated as fully disabled. Once his Traumatic Brain Injury symptoms began easing, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder kicked in.
For some time, the PTSD was crippling.
His wife, Melissa Hansen, said Tuesday that the couple adopted their son, Jesse, then an infant, about that time. "To sit in a rocking chair, rocking Jesse, was instrumental in his recovery."
Hansen said he finally left his "cave" and began volunteering at the George E. Wahlen Veterans Affairs Medical Center and with Wasatch Adaptive Sports.
Now the military liaison for that non-profit, he connects veterans to the hand-cycling, skiing, paddleboarding, camping and other outings it offers.
"It heals me, helping other vets," said Hansen.
And he has no regrets about going to war.
"Every bomb I pulled off the road was three lives saved from death or injury," he said. "That was the best job."