News>Medic awarded Purple Heart for deployed actions
Staff Sgt. Jasmine Russell, 2nd Medical Operations Squadron, poses for a photo on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Feb. 5. Russell earned the Purple Heart after her deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 during Operation Enduring Freedom. After an improvised explosive device detonated under the vehicle she was traveling in, Russell aided members in her convoy even after sustaining injuries herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Micaiah Anthony)
Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, Air Force Global Strike Command commander, shakes the hand of Staff Sgt. Jasmine Russell, 2nd Medical Operations Squadron, after presenting her with the Purple Heart during a ceremony at Hoban Hall on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Feb. 7. Russell earned the Purple Heart after her deployment to Afghanistan in 2011 during Operation Enduring Freedom. After an improvised explosive device detonated under the vehicle she was traveling in, Russell aided members in her convoy even after sustaining injuries herself. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Amber Ashcraft)
by Master Sgt. Sabrina D. Foster
2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
2/7/2013 - BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. (AFNS) -- An Air Force medic assigned to dangerous duty with an Army logistics convoy unit when deployed to Afghanistan two years ago was awarded the Purple Heart during a ceremony at Barksdale Air Force Base, La.
Staff Sgt. Jasmine Russell, 2nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron, Personnel Reliability Program alternate monitor, received the award from Lt. Gen. James Kowalski, commander, Air Force Global Strike Command.
Russell deployed for the first time to Afghanistan from December 2010 to June 2011.
"The day [Jan. 7, 2011] started out pretty interesting," said Russell. "I was riding in a convoy of 167 trucks inside truck number 34, and there were lots of improvised explosive devices along our path. I had never gone to this particular forward operating base, so I wasn't familiar with the terrain, but some of the guys in my truck noticed things to be a little strange. We went through this one village and nobody was out. Soon nighttime fell upon us and the next thing I remembered was the truck landing," said Russell.
The mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle Russell was riding in was hit by an IED so powerful that it dismantled her truck, ripping off the right side of the vehicle where she was sitting.
"I can't remember whether I lost consciousness or not; my main concern at that time was making sure everybody was OK."
Right after the incident, Russell said she felt fine and made sure everybody else was OK until additional help arrived. Although Russell had no visible wounds, her teammates around her knew something was wrong because she just didn't seem like herself. She was medically evacuated along with the rest of the crew.
Russell was kept overnight for observation, and diagnosed with a grade two concussion.
After she was released from the hospital, Russell said she felt fine, only had a slight headache which was normal for the type of trauma she had experienced. But shortly after that, she realized things weren't as normal as she thought they were.
"I left the hospital and I couldn't remember where my room was," said Russell. "I went in the bathroom and just stayed there until my roommate came and found me."
After continuing to experience different symptoms, ranging from headaches to confusion, disorientation, unexplained irritability, sleeping a lot, or not at all, Russell went back for additional medical care at the urging of her teammates.
"My roommates were the first ones who knew something was wrong," she said. They kept telling me I needed to go back because I wasn't the same as I was before. They were concerned about my well-being."
Russell was given a battery of tests, and was diagnosed with post concussive traumatic brain injury. Prior to leaving Afghanistan, Russell was submitted for the Purple Heart twice, but was denied both times due to lack of documentation.
"I was a little bummed and frustrated after it was denied the second time," said Russell. "I almost felt like the symptoms I was having were just all in my head. My co-workers were more frustrated than I was because they saw what I was going through and knew something was wrong."
Elizabeth Melahn, an Air Force recovery care coordinator, is a focal point at Barksdale for the Air Force Warrior and Survivor Care Program's non-clinical case management for seriously wounded, ill and injured Airmen, including members of the Reserve and Guard components, and their families. Melahn and her office work to streamline and improve the way care and support are delivered, help minimize bureaucracy, advocate for, and offer single point of contact for Airmen and their families along their road to recovery.
Melahn first heard about Russell when she saw her name on a casualty report.
"I noticed she was from Barksdale, so I reached out to her leadership here and inquired about how she was doing," said Melahn. "I emailed her, introducing myself and told her to come see me upon her return to Barksdale. I then sent her emails periodically to check on her during the duration of her deployment."
"I spoke to Russell's commander, Col. Blake Lollis, 2 AMDS, and explained to him that I felt she met the criteria for the award, and that I wanted to pursue it," said Melahn. Lollis was is in full agreement and was ready to assist. "We asked Jasmine's permission to look over her records, and the lack of documentation that she was previously denied for, was now there."
The medical documentation was present in her records, and she had a support document in the form of a memorandum dated April 25, 2011, signed by Clifford Stanley, former undersecretary of defense stating the award of the Purple Heart in relation to TBI.
It reads, "For award of the Purple Heart, the mild TBI or concussive injury that did not result in a loss of consciousness must have required treatment, not merely examination, by a medical officer. Treatment of the mTBI or concussive injury shall be documented in the service member's medical and/or health record."
Russell underwent another battery of tests from three medical providers. Lollis wrote a three page report or disability evaluation using his skills as an occupational medicine physician to point out a causal relationship between the injury and her medication condition. He established that her condition met criteria for post-concussive syndrome, a mild form of traumatic brain injury. Maj. Mark Dudley, 2nd Medical Operations Squadron, and Capt. Nathan Stafford, 2 AMDS, also submitted medical reports in support of a diagnosis of post-concussive syndrome. Melahn wrote the record of documentation, and resubmitted it Dec. 3, 2012, along with the three medical reports. The Purple Heart medal was signed Jan. 15.
"When I first found out, I had mixed emotions," said Russell. "I was a little bit shocked, I cried. It was a very long two-year process and, I was just relieved that it was over. I was able to have peace of mind knowing it wasn't all in my head, that something was really wrong with me. If it wasn't for the support my commander, Col. Lollis, Ms. Melahn, and teammates, I wouldn't be here. They cared and supported me 100 percent. I couldn't have done it without them. I am forever indebted to them."
Melahn was elated with the news as well.
"I felt like I had won the lottery," said Melahn. "I just wanted to scream. People come to me for help and any time I am able to help them win their battle, it's a victory for me. I love what I do. This job was made for me."
Lollis was pleased he was able to help Russell get her medal after all the hurdles and obstacles she had to overcome.
"It was a true pleasure helping Sergeant Russell," said Lollis. "I was able to use my occupational medical training to evaluate her, and found that she met the criteria for post concussive syndrome which is a form of TBI. This type of injury was causally related to the IED blast Sergeant Russell experienced in the winter of 2011."
"It's nice to have a successful conclusion to a two-year, one week campaign," said Lollis. "Sergeant Russell is a fine young American and Airman, and I was pleased I was able to help her. She is going great places in this Air Force, and some day, I am quite sure, she will be a chief master sergeant."
Russell still continues to have symptoms, but she said she has come a long way.
"I'm still under doctor's care and treatment," said Russell. "I still suffer from headaches, confusion about certain things 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."
Russell said she would deploy again if given the opportunity.
"I want to go again. 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."
2/11/2013 1:07:13 PM ET As your fellow medic deployed 2 tours in Aghanistan. You are a true Warrior Medic and a well deserving Purple Heart. Good luck in your recovery.