Purple Heart awarded to local soldier
The certificate reads in part, "The President of the United States of America has awarded the Purple Heart to Specialist Derek D. Hinz, Company B, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, for wounds received in action on 29 June 2005 in Iraq."
It is a long way from the chaos of a pre-dawn ambush on the back roads of Iraq to a ceremony held in front of family and friends on a clear January afternoon at the National Guard Armory in New Richmond. Just ask Sergeant Hinz.
During Hinz's first tour in Iraq in 2005, he was manning the top gun aboard the lead Humvee while along a familiar route when a road side bomb exploded setting in motion dramatic events that would result in Sergeant Hinz receiving the Purple Heart.
All missions are rehearsed in advance. "Rock Drills" enable team members to familiarize themselves with all the details and responsibilities of a specific action ahead of time, Hinz explained.
By 2005, the U. S. Army had already begun integrating Iraqi troops into missions along with U.S. troops. This was such a mission using both U.S. and Iraqi troops. Missions strategically alternated routes to minimize their predictability to enemy forces. During the day, in addition to rehearsing missions, members of Bravo Company spent time out in the community "winning the hearts and minds" of local Iraqi citizens, Hinz said. Building the trust of locals also helped generate useful intelligence about potential enemy combatants, Hinz added.
This particular mission against a target house had taken place between the hours of 2 and 3 a.m. utilizing infrared equipment to enable troops to travel invisibly to and from the target, Hinz recalled.
The mission called for soldiers from Bravo Company, including Hinz's four-man fire team, to surround the target house while members of a Special Forces unit entered. Returning to base, everything had gone according to plan right up until an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) exploded into the left side of Hinz's vehicle sending shrapnel flying into his chest and knocking him unconscious.
The team's first line medic, a guardsman from Tennessee, along with fellow members of his unit quickly freed Hinz from the vehicle and safely removed the pieces of shrapnel from his body armor.
"I was dazed, definitely concussed," Hinz recalled. "Bells ringing was definitely the best way to put it." To be attacked at that particular time, in that specific place, led members of Bravo Company to suspect that an informant leaked information to enemy forces. Within minutes additional support personnel and vehicles were requested, as well as air support from F15 fighters. The fighting lasted several intense hours before Hinz could be returned to base. Upon his return, to protect against any sort of traumatic brain injury, Hinz was transported to a different base for further medical attention.
Seeing Hinz standing proudly at attention, while his mother and father looked on as Brigadier General Scott Legwold pinned the Purple Heart to his left lapel, confirmed his successful recovery.
Given that he had spent two tours in Iraq, both fighting and attempting to win the trust of Iraqis, Hinz said he was proud of his role in securing freedom for the Iraqi people.
"They are very good people," he said. "It's a very small percentage of them that dislike Americans. They needed our help."
Hinz, a New Richmond native and 2003 graduate of New Richmond High School, is currently studying radiography at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire.