Two Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133, Task Force Anchor, were awarded the Purple Heart for wounds suffered in action while deployed to Afghanistan.
The recipients were conducting a convoy mission between forward operating bases in the Helmand Province when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle Oct.16.
“This was a near-death experience that I don’t like to talk about,” said Equipment Operator Constructionman Matthew Loper. “I pulled out my shipmate, and all I can say is I’m glad we made it.”
Loper, a native of Charlevoix, Mich., received the Purple Heart from Brig. Gen. David L. Weeks, commanding general of 411th Engineer Brigade, Joint Task Force Empire, during an award presentation at Camp Krutke, Afghanistan on Oct. 29.
“General Weeks told me this was something special,” recalled Loper. “He asked me how I was doing, then he said it’s an honor which will last a lifetime. It was moving.”
The second recipient, Equipment Operator Third Class Sean Neilson, a Danville, Pa. native, received the Purple Heart while recovering from his wounds at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va. on Oct. 30, from Rear Adm. Mark Handley, commander of the First Naval Construction Division.
“We were almost to the destination,” said Neilson. “I got that feeling in my gut. I remember saying that something wasn’t right, and soon after we got hit. I realized I was injured when I tried to stand up because a severe pain shot up my leg and I thought ‘what happened to my feet?’”
“I’m proud to receive this award,” said Neilson. “I have a long line of military running in the family, and my goal is to get my degree and become a (Naval) officer.”
“Our two heroes, along with first responding sailors, at the site performed brilliantly,” said Commanding Officer Cmdr. Nicolas Yamodis. “Months of training before entering the theater paid off throughout these poignant extraordinary moments that no one wants to experience, but we must be prepared for. The mettle and conviction of purpose of the entire team cannot be overstated. They are part of effecting monumental tasks in furthering the Afghanistan government, and I am proud to call them shipmates.”
Once called the “Badge of Merit,” the Purple Heart, the U.S. military’s oldest award, is awarded in the name of the President of the United States and was established by George Washington. A service member must be wounded or killed by enemy forces to be eligible for the award.
Home ported in, Gulfport, Miss., NMCB 133 is deployed to Afghanistan and the U.S. Central Command area of operations to assist coalition forces and provide engineering support to the Afghan government.
Article by Petty Officer 3rd Class Drew Verbis, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 133