By Capt. Tamara Fischer-Carter
Air Force Space Command Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Nearly five years after he was injured by the blast of an improvised explosive device, Capt. Edward F. Dice, Jr. was awarded the Purple Heart Medal Jan. 13.
Air Force Space Command Commander General William Shelton, presented Dice the Medal before a standing room only crowd in the AFSPC Headquarters building at Peterson Air Force Base.
Dice received the award for wounds received in combat on June 23, 2007 while performing gunner duties during a convoy mission.
“I switched from convoy commander to gunner that day because it was June in Iraq and exceptionally hot,” said Dice. “We had been on the road for about 8 hours up until that point and my gunner was showing signs of heat exhaustion. I put him in my seat and took over gunner duties of the .50 cal (.50 caliber machine gun) in order to relieve him. Not 10 minutes later, we got hit.”
Deployed from the 820th Rapid Engineers Deployable Heavy Operations Repair Squadron Engineers Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev. at the time, Dice’s logistics convoy was attacked by a roadside IED. The blast from the attack threw Dice against the vehicle turret causing a concussion.
During that deployment, Dice’s team performed 82 combat patrols covering more than 5,000 miles. “Iraq was very kinetic then. We took 10 IED hits and were in multiple firefights during that time, and in retrospect, we were remarkably lucky that we didn’t have more injuries,” said Dice.
“Essentially I was a convoy commander and project manager who had a team of 35 engineers who worked for me,” said Dice. His team traveled to 16 sites throughout Iraq repairing runways, building landing zones and Tactical Operations Centers.
The convoy included six up-armored high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles, seven tractor trailers, and a heavy expanded mobile tactical truck recovery vehicle.
“We had two jobs: while convoying, we performed duties such as driver, truck commander, gunner, radio operator, medic, intel officer, etc. After we arrived at our mission location, we put our engineer hat on and performed the necessary work to complete the mission. It was a unique, but demanding job,” said Dice.
Why it took nearly five years to receive the award is a story in itself.
Dice’s award recommendation was previously denied. “Because the diagnosis and treatment (for Traumatic Brain Injury) can sometimes be difficult, it was overlooked,” said Capt. Dice.
Due to a new Department of Defense Baseline Standard for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, the award was reconsidered, resubmitted and approved on Dec. 5, 2011.
DoD now recognizes mTBI as a combat-related injury warranting award of the Purple Heart Medal and in turn, many who were previously denied are being recognized for their sacrifice.
“I am so honored,” said Dice wearing the freshly pinned Purple Heart Medal on his chest.
“I really want to thank retired Chief Master Sergeant John”JD” Olive for helping me resubmit my papers.”
“He earned it, he deserved it and it felt good to go back and correct that wrong,” said Olive.
Dice embodies selfless service as a five-time combat veteran and the recipient of three Bronze Star Medals.
“In RED HORSE, the ops tempo was high so deployments were frequent and if you were able, you were deploying,” said Dice. “I decided to volunteer to be a convoy commander again and perform a similar mission. I felt obligated, in a sense, to do this because I had so much previous experience that I could lend to the new team and mission. For that reason, and the camaraderie that developed within our team and the bonds that formed between us, I wanted to do it all over again. Those deployments were brutal, but also the most rewarding and memorable for me,” said Dice.
Despite optimistically volunteering for another year-long Provincial Reconstruction Team mission, Dice is still being treated for his injuries.
“I think that awareness in the lowest levels of the leadership chain is vital when initially diagnosing TBI,” Dice said. “When Airmen are subjected to a concussion blast, they need to be given a proper medical evaluation immediately to treat any possible brain injury or trauma in order to begin the recovery process. Awareness by an Airmen’s supervisor, friend, or even subordinate can turn a long, arduous recovery into a more fluid one,” said Dice.
“The recognition, acceptance, and understanding of the symptoms related to TBI have led to greatly improved science and technology when treating the injury and thus, improving the quality of life for our wounded warriors,” said Dice.