Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, shakes hands with Sgt. Paul Podhorn, as Cpl. Michael Williams and Pfc. Nicholas Braschko, all of 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, look on during their Purple Heart ceremony Thursday at Fort Hood.
A Purple Heart rests on the uniform of Cpl. MIchael Williams during a ceremony Thursday at Fort Hood.

Maj. Gen. Daniel Allyn pins a Purple Heart on Pfc. Micholas Braschko Thursday at Fort Hood.

By Colleen Flaherty
Fort Hood Herald

Maj. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, 1st Cavalry Division commander, pinned Purple Heart medals on three soldiers from the division’s Comanche Troop, 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, Thursday for injuries sustained in support of Operation New Dawn.

The squadron deployed in January to Baghdad and Iraq’s Wasit province. Saber troopers returned in November.

Allyn took time from his mid-tour leave from his deployment to Afghanistan with the division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion to attend the ceremony at the squadron’s motor pool. Although they said they recognized the gravity of the Purple Heart, the nation’s oldest military award, all three recipients said it was an honor they’d never asked for.

“I didn’t want a Purple Heart; I wanted more of my friends to come home,” said Sgt. Paul Podhorn, who was struck in the head by a sniper’s bullet on Aug. 26 near the village of Numaniyah. “But that’s the way the cookie crumbles. That’s the way it is.”

Seven Saber and other soldiers attached to the squadron died during the deployment, according to information from the unit.

“It kind of still feels weird,” said Pfc. Nicholas Braschko, 24, whose vehicle hit a roadside bomb on June 13 near Al Kut, killing two fellow Saber soldiers, Sgt. Glenn Sewell and Staff Sgt. Nicholas Bellard. “A year-and-a-half ago I was in basic training, and I’ve already deployed and been in combat already.”

Cpl. Michael Williams, 29, who was also injured in the June attack and suffered hip and other injuries from the concussion wave, said, “I wish it hadn’t happened. I wish it had been me.”

The squadron’s commander, Lt. Col. Cameron Cantlon, praised both Braschko, who suffered shrapnel wounds, and Williams for doing “everything possible” to save Sewell and Bellard following the blast.

“The truck was hit and hit hard,” said Cantlon. “We share your pain.”

Cantlon told Podhorn the squadron commended “your confidence and bravery” throughout the attack in a strategically important area of Wasit.

After spending months recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Podhorn, 25, was given the go-ahead to attend the ceremony at Fort Hood. He walked unassisted, giving no indication of the severity of his recent injury.

“I’m feeling nothing but better and better every day,” said Podhorn. “My orders are getting cut. I’ll be back by (Tuesday or Wednesday).”

Podhorn’s wife, Karen Podhorn, 23, said she was amazed by the speed of her husband’s recovery, considering he was paralyzed on the right side of his body immediately following the incident.

“It was hard not to be able to see him right away, to know if he was stable or not,” said Karen of waiting for her husband to return to the U.S. from Iraq. “But I kind of knew he was going to be OK, that wife’s feeling.”

Since then, she said, “We’ve been through this whole thing together.”

Both Braschko and Williams already have returned to the unit and are serving in its rear detachment.

Braschko said he hopes to return to his troop within the next few weeks.

Williams said he experiences flashbacks of the attack daily and misses running.

Although it will “definitely take a while” for his hip to heal, he’s looking forward to strapping on his sneakers again.

Both Cantlon and Saber’s top noncommissioned officer, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Burnette, said the last Purple Heart ceremony of the Iraq War held meaning for the battle-tested unit.

“It’s closure for the squadron,” said Cantlon. “It’s part of honoring the sacrifices of the squadron.”

Burnette said it was a bookend to a period of reflection that began as soon as troopers crossed out of Iraq into Kuwait before their redeployment.

“The second you crossed over, you felt relief that you survived another one,” he said. “But we also took a moment of silence for the soldiers we lost.”