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A North Hardin High School graduate has been awarded a Purple Heart two years after receiving an injury that still affects her life.
Staff Sgt. Jasmine Russell, a U.S. Air Force medic, was riding in a convoy of 167 trucks in January 2011 during her first deployment to Afghanistan, which began the month before.
Russell was assigned with the U.S. Army as a logistics convoy medic.
There were many improvised explosive devices along the path that day, Russell said in a news release.
She never had been to the forward operating base where the convoy was headed, but some of the people with her said things were strange. There was one village where no one was outside.
That’s when an IED blast ripped through the right side of her vehicle, next to her seat. Though the vehicle was mine-resistant, the explosion disabled the truck and forced it into the air.
Russell remembers the impact when it came down to earth.
“I can’t remember whether I lost consciousness or not,” she said. “My main concern at that time was making sure everybody was OK.”
Russell felt fine and made sure everyone with her was cared for until help arrived.
Her teammates told her she didn’t seem like herself, so she was evacuated with the rest of the crew and diagnosed with a grade two concussion.
It soon became clear the headache Russell thought was the worst of her problems wasn’t all she was suffering.
“I left the hospital, and I couldn’t remember where my room was,” she said. “I went in the bathroom and just stayed there until my roommate came and found me.”
Russell began having headaches, confusion, disorientation, unexplained irritability, and too much or no sleep.
She was diagnosed with post-concussive traumatic brain injury and given medication and two weeks off duty.
She returned to duty for the rest of her deployment, which ended that summer.
She was submitted twice for the Purple Heart during her deployment and denied both times because of lack of documentation.
The situation was finally resolved when an Air Force recovery care coordinator heard about Russell and wanted to help.
Medical documentation was finally in Russell’s records, and the recovery care coordinator worked to make sure everything was in place for her to be recognized.
Russell finally received the honor in February during a ceremony at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.
She still has symptoms, such as headaches, confusion and short-term memory loss.
“I feel I’ve come a long way from where I was and am looking forward to progressing with each new day,” she said.
Russell said she’d deploy again if she had the opportunity.
“I want to go again,” she said. “If they told me right now that I had to deploy, I would have my gorilla boxes ready. It’s the most rewarding experience in the Air Force, and I’ll do it again in a heartbeat.”
Amber Coulter can be reached at (270) 505-1746 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stories from the Heartland appears Mondays in The News-Enterprise.