On April 16, 2005 an improvised explosive device seriously injured Army Sergeant First Class Ronald Agard in Baqubah, Iraq and he suffered a concussion and severe skin abrasions. Yesterday, Veterans Day, Agard received a Purple Heart award from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer.
At the New City ceremony, Schumer explained when Agard was injured the Army was very limiting in its criteria presenting Traumatic Brain
Injury (TBI) victims with a Purple Heart. Only recently did TBI and other “invisible injuries” get expanded consideration for a Purple Heart entitling Agard to receive his long-awaited award.
Agard described what happened on the day he was injured.
“While on duty in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom on my way to a council meeting we were ambushed,” he recalled. “And I suffered injuries as a result of that ambush. All of my colleagues that were with me we all survived with minor bumps and bruises.”
After the attack, his commanding officer immediately recommended Agard for a Purple Heart but it was denied.
Agard said when he returned home, Rockland County Veterans Services Agency Director Jerry Donnellen decided to pursue it and recently asked Schumer’s office for assistance in getting the Army to review Agard’s case.
“From ’05 he’s been sending it up and it’s coming back, sending it up and it’s been coming back,” explained Agard. “And finally it came back approved today."
Agard of Airmont said he was very appreciative of the efforts made to get the award. The gunner in his unit was the first to receive the Purple Heart. Agard said now he is reaching out to fellow team members to encourage them to apply for the medal.
Schumer, whose office just received the medal this week, said after reviewing medical records his staff finally convinced the Army that Agard was deserving of the Purple Heart.
In presenting the medal, Schumer thanked Agard for his service.
“Ron as I said represents a special group of people who got a special type of injury who weren’t recognized but he also represents all our veterans,” said Schumer.
Joining Agard at the ceremony was his longtime friend, U.S Army Sergeant Pablo Martinez. Martinez of the Bronx was traveling in a vehicle behind the one carrying Agard’s unit and helped rescue the wounded soldiers.
Martinez said of Agard,” He’s my brother.”
Carole Agard said she was grateful to Senator Schumer and his efforts to get the Army to recognize the “invisible wounds” of soldiers that led to her husband receiving the Purple Heart.
“It’s well deserved,” she said. “I truly appreciate those who sacrificed their lives for our freedom.”
Schumer also spoke about legislation approved in the Senate on Thursday.
“The first thing the Democrats and Republicans united on yesterday was to pass a law that would help – it was 99 to 0 – that would help employ our veterans that will come back,” he said
Schumer said the legislation will help veterans translate the skills they gained in the armed forces to civilian jobs; allow them to begin applying for jobs online while they are completing their tour of duty and provide tax breaks for employers hiring unemployed veterans. The tax breaks will range from $3,000 to $9,000 depending upon how long the veteran has been unemployed.
Schumer said these steps were critical.
“Because remember, the day we forget our veterans is the day the sun sets on America,” he said. “It’s plain and simple.”
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski said with more soldiers expected to be returning home soon it is critical to help veterans find jobs and get the help they need.
When asked about what could be done to counter budget cuts in Rockland’s Veterans’ services, Schumer said he would try to help.
“I will look to see if there are some spare federal funds that could fill the void,” he said.
Past President of the Vietnam Veterans of Rockland County Howard Goldin, Commander of the Jewish War Veterans of Rockland and Orange Alan Moskin, Commander of the Rockland County Disabled Veterans Jeremy Honey, and Commander of the Rockland County Marine Corps League Rocky Graziano joined Agard’s family and friends and Ramapo officials at the ceremony at American Legion Post 1682.
The 52-year-old Agard, who served for 23 years in the Army, works for the Cultural Properties Department of the Town of Ramapo.
Agard, who grew up in Manhattan, enlisted in the Army in 1986. He served in Mannheim, Germany twice as a Supply Specialist and later as a Supply Sergeant. He was assigned to Fort Dix, NJ as an Armorer, Assistant Supply Sergeant and Supply Sergeant and in Fair Lawn, NJ as a recruiter. In 1997, he was assigned as Station Commander in Spring Valley and in 1998 as Station Commander and Civil Affairs Sergeant in Danbury, CT. Then in 2004 he was deployed to Iraq as a Civil Affairs Team Sergeant and was there less than a year when he was injured. Agard helped with the first free elections and the construction of schools, road and establishing clean water supplies.