BREMERTON, Wash. (NNS) -- On Dec. 16, 2012, the harsh, unforgiving landscape of Helmand province, Afghanistan, came crashing into Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Edwardbrice Sablan.
Riding in a mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle as part of an escort patrol in the war-torn Marjah region, his immediate world and that of the Marines with him, was suddenly transformed. A sudden blast tore into the undercarriage, sending an estimated 200-pound home-made improvised explosive device (IED) into members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
Sablan, sitting directly behind the auxiliary driver, was knocked momentarily unconscious by the force of the explosion. When he came to amidst the aftermath of swirling smoke, choking dust, and minimal visibility, his thoughts immediately went to the others.
"My concern was for my Marines. I was worried about everyone else. We all got knocked out, including the driver, gunner, and other passengers. I instantly started assessing the others," said Sablan.
Everyone had cuts, minor lacerations, and bruises from debris and shrapnel, except the auxiliary driver. The explosion had severely injured his lower torso.
"I had to get him out right away. I pulled him out and stabilized his wounds as much as possible. We had set up a defensive posture. There were potshots coming at us and I protected and cared for him until the helo landed and transported him on to Camp Leatherneck," related Sablan.
Upon returning after the seven-month deployment, back at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, Sablan discovered he would be a recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds sustained during combat operations in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
"I felt very undeserving compared to what others have gone through and then been presented the Purple Heart," Sablan said, adding that it wasn't until a senior hospital corpsman shared with him the real significance of being presented the Purple Heart.
"He said that that 'you're not wearing it for yourself. You're wearing it for all those who never made it back.' To have it explained like that meant a lot," explained Sablan.
That specific meaning was also a driving force behind commemorating August 7, 2017 as Purple Heart Day to remember 1782 when Gen. George Washington created the Purple Heart Medal - then known as the Badge of Military Merit - as a military decoration that is presented to those wounded or killed while serving in the United States armed forces.
Sablan, from Saipan, has been assigned to Naval Hospital Bremerton for the last two and a half of his eight and a half years in the Navy. He is currently the assistant leading petty officer of Family Practice. He was also recently promoted under the Meritoriously Advancement Program (MAP) to his current rank. Add the Fleet Marine Force (FMF) qualification pin he received on the same deployment that he was cited for the Purple Heart, and his uniform shows accomplishments that speak volumes even when he remains soft spoken.
"It is very humbling to be recognized not just for the Purple Heart. There are others just as worthy for the MAP. There are others who have been on a combat deployment and earned their FMF. There are others who have been in the thick of it," Sablan said.
That fateful patrol was part of yet another long day near Marjah, the epicenter of a continuous battle by the Marines with Taliban forces. Sablan and the rest of his platoon had just wrapped up an eight-hour foot patrol before heading back to Patrol Base Boldak. Word was then passed that an escort platoon was needed for helping with route clearance with a U.S. Air Force contingent.
Two vehicles in the convoy passed over the IED with no detonation. The third was nowhere near as lucky.
"MRAPs are made to take a punch, but that blast blew a hole into it, right where Cpl. Cody Jones was sitting," Sablan said.
Jones' injuries resulted in the amputation of his left leg, below the knee, and right, mid-foot amputation.
Sablan attests that his training kicked in. Concern for his own well-being was a distance thought to caring for those he was assigned to as their corpsman and 'doc.'
"For all of us who go on the 'green side' with the Marines, being motivated is good. Being smart is great. But be prepared and be humble. We are there to take care of our Marines. That's our job. That's our sole purpose. That's why we are who we are. Our job is to make sure that they all get back home, and we [have] to do everything we can to make that happen," shared Sablan.
The Purple Heart is the oldest military award still being given in the name of the president of the United States. Historical notes show that after the end of the American War of Independence, no medals were awarded until 1932, when the Purple Heart was revived on the bicentennial anniversary of George Washington's birth. According to a circular dated February 22, 1932, Purple Heart Medals were to be awarded to those wounded or killed while serving in the United States armed forces as a result of enemy action on or after April 5, 1917.
The United States officially joined the World War I on April 6, 1917. Since then, approximately 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been presented, including to the initial three Revolutionary soldiers in 1783.
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