Warren airman earns Purple Heart

Cheyenne, Wyo. - A Wyoming airman has received one of the nation’s highest honors.

Friday morning (1/5/18), Technical Sgt. Douglas Gerald Smits was presented with a Purple Heart for his bravery and sacrifice during a deployment in Afghanistan. Smits is currently stationed at FE Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

The airman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin had his first assignment as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Member from 2004-2009. He deployed three times, but during his second deployment in 2007, he and his team were hit by an Improvised Explosive Device.

"You train really hard and you work really hard to get to an opportunity like that.” Smits recalled, of his time with the EOD team. “I didn’t want that opportunity to get cut short.”

It happened during his second deployment as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team Member at Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan in 2007. The IED severely damaged their vehicle and the team suffered non-fatal internal injuries that would go undiagnosed for a decade. While awaiting support, Doug and his team continued to support one of NATO’s largest operations in the region by defusing and disrupting enemy IED’s until help could arrive.

Due to the remote location where the detonation occurred, there were no Medical Treatment Facilities available and the only option for a medical evaluation would have required an aerial medical evacuation. Despite being in a severe explosion the team did not request medical evacuation, as they felt the team could still function to contribute to the success of the mission and requesting a medical evacuation would have taken assets away from potential higher priorities, in this fast moving operation. SrA Smits and his team remained in the kill zone, vigilantly securing their disabled vehicle until recovery assets arrived five days later. During this time he continued to provide EOD support to the 82nd Airborne and Coalition Forces.

About 10 years later, Smits was later diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury.

"For me, I noticed some short-term memory type stuff,” said Smits. “And end up having to write things down a little bit more than I had to before."

While stationed at FE Warren Air Force Base, Smits has deployed once responding to explosive hazards involved in a downed aircraft while supporting OPERATION Inherent Resolve, became a Subject Matter Expert on locally supported weapons systems, and most recently led a superior team during the latest NSI.

Wyoming U.S. Sen. John Barrasso took part in the ceremony saying, "When you hear the stories of this young man's services and sacrifices, this is somebody that has never complained and has never quit and continues to serve today."

Smits said his great grandfather also received the award and added, "It's extremely humbling to get it, so it goes back to really amazing Americans, so it feels pretty cool to be a part of something like that."