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Green Beret to receive Purple Heart

CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- A Green Beret will be awarded the Purple Heart May 5, 2017, at the 16th Special Operations Squadron auditorium on base.

The recipient is Army Master Sgt. Justin Hummer, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron Joint Ground Liaison Office NCO in charge, who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury during a deployment in 2007.

“I didn’t have any penetrating trauma or anything like that,” Hummer said. “It wasn’t until years later, 2015, that a medic brought it to my attention I was eligible for the Purple Heart.”

That eligibility came from a change in 2013, made by the Secretary of the Army, to include severe concussions and TBIs sustained in battle backdated to September 2001.

“In the beginning, there was little known about the residual impacts of over pressure and what it can do to soft tissues in the body,” said the Green Beret.

As research developed over the years due to service members having these types of injuries, it was clear that this was a severe scar from battle. Recognition grew until it was finally acknowledged to be an injury among the ranks of the medal’s culture.

Hummer grew up in Clarksdale, Mo., a small town with a population of 268. He knew from the start he wanted to be a Soldier.

“In a small town like that, you only have a few options,” Hummer said. “I could be a welder, farmer, go work for the railroad or possibly college. But joining the military was something I knew I would enjoy doing. I grew up in the woods shooting guns, fishing and trapping. Getting to do that for a living was a real attractive career path to an 18-year old with no plans.”

Hummer’s family wasn’t particularly military-oriented, with only a few relatives serving in the Vietnam War. However, his great-grandfather did serve as an infantryman in WWII, a service remembered by the combat infantryman’s badge Hummer still keeps with him.

“Outside of official functions and promotion photos, I’ll wear his badge on my uniform,” he said. “It is real blemished and old-looking. I’ll get called out for it sometimes because it doesn’t look new. It is off from everything else of my uniform. It sits on the front of my desk when I’m not wearing it.”

It is a proud heritage that he aimed to carry out as his career started in the Army.

“At 17 years old, I joined the Army National Guard as a communication specialist,” he said. “I went to basic training and then came back to finish my senior year of high school. I told my parents I didn’t really want to stick around here.”

It was the Army’s birthday, June 14, 2001, when Hummer became an active duty Soldier. He then completed his Military Occupational Specialty training and arrived at Ft. Campbell, his first duty station, on Sept. 10, 2001.

“Almost every day of my active duty career has been from 9/11 on,” Hummer explained.

By the age of 21, Hummer would rise to the rank of Sergeant with one deployment to Iraq already under his belt. While he was deployed, he witnessed the work of the Green Berets and was influenced by their career field.

“It looked way more fun and cooler what they were doing compared to what I was doing. So when I came back from deployment and was on leave, I made the decision to go to selection.”

Hummer was selected in 2004 and completed the entire Green Beret training by 2006. He would serve the next 10 years in a Special Forces unit until ultimately fulfilling his current role here at Cannon. However, his first deployment as a Green Beret led to the events in which Hummer was injured.

“My first deployment with Special Forces was in 2007,” Hummer said. “I left in March of that year and was assigned to what is called a ‘serpent crew.’ Basically, a logistics element that helped secure all logistics movements for the Battalion. We were hauling equipment, providing fuel, stuff like that.”

In addition to those responsibilities, Hummer and his team would provide any extra manpower needed, such as setting up a cordon for Direct Action missions. It was on one of those types of missions Hummer suffered his TBI.

“I was getting my truck ready with my buddy and we were pressed for time,” he explained. “As we were just finishing up preparing the gun on the truck, 107mm rockets started landing around us. The enemy would launch these rockets using steel rails off the top of rooftops, just kind of make-shift launchers that they had.”

Approximately six rockets struck in and around their compound--but the first one got Hummer.

“The first rocket impacted within 10 feet of me. It threw me against my truck and there was shrapnel ‘peppered’ all along the truck and turret.”

Miraculously, no shrapnel collided with Hummer, he recalls his ‘luck’ of the situation.

“I was very fortunate because the rocket didn’t explode in the fashion that it should have,” Hummer said. “Only a few pieces of shrapnel came in my direction but didn’t get me. I would say close to 80 percent of the rocket stayed intact and went through a concrete wall, landing in the road next to me.”

Once the rockets stopped, the dazed Hummer hopped in the vehicle and continued on with the mission, something he would not be able to recall the next day.

“I didn’t remember anything the rest of the night,” he said. “The following morning is when my buddies decided it might be a good idea to get me some help. It isn’t good when you can’t remember an entire mission. I was still functioning but everything was cloudy. I played football growing up, and for me, it was like getting your ‘bell rung’ from a big hit. You know you got hit hard but you just try and focus on the next task at hand.”

Looking back on the events now, Hummer measures the outcome as in his favor.

“At the end of the day, I’m very, very fortunate,” he said. “I have all my fingers and toes. I still have feeling everywhere. I mean, that’s pretty good.”

That is something not all recipients of the Purple Heart can say, which Hummer pointed out as he talked about the reality of the medal.

“That’s the thing about the Purple Heart, it can vary from a bullet-grazed flesh wound all the way to my buddy I had to put in the ground, he gets a Purple Heart too," he said. "On paper, his Purple Heart equates to mine, but in reality, his definitely had a bigger impact on his life compared to mine. It is one of those awards when coming up through the ranks I knew I could live without. Usually means something bad happened that day.”

However, Hummer realizes the importance of receiving this medal and who he wants it to matter most to.

“The ceremony is really for my family. You have to do things for your family. They stand behind you and let you do your job day in and day out. They’re the ones sitting home worried about you.”

The day of the ceremony, their worried feeling will be exchanged with that of pride. Hummer will have most of his family, to include his wife, 2-year old son and sister at the ceremony. There will also be two more guests he is especially proud to have there.

“For my mom and dad, this will be the first event that they will be able to attend since my basic graduation in August of 2000," said Hummer. "It’s for all of them more than anything. I want them to see the history of the award, the comradery of the unit and how their son turned out.”