Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Purple Heart for Newburgh Soldier ; Sgt. Maj. Hit by Rocket Fire

Newspaper article Evansville Courier & Press (2007-Current)

Purple Heart for Newburgh Soldier ; Sgt. Maj. Hit by Rocket Fire

Article excerpt

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew McDowell was eating his lunch Sept. 21 at a forward operating base in western Patika Province in Afghanistan when he heard explosions. "I headed outside with two other soldiers to make sure everyone was OK," said McDowell, a member of the 4th Brigade 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kan., and son of Lois McDowell and the late Albert Ray McDowell of Newburgh. "I was trailing them when we all heard another rocket coming toward the FOB (forward operating base)."

The rocket was loud, and McDowell could tell that it was headed straight for the base. The Chinesemade 107 mm rocket hit the pavement behind him and exploded.

"I was thrown from the blast, and I bounced off the pavement three or four times," McDowell said during a recent interview via webcam from Afghanistan. "The first thing I did when I got up was check on my soldiers. They were all that was on my mind."

"Their families have entrusted me to take care of them, and I feel that I am responsible to do so," said McDowell.

Though after the blast, McDowell's concern was focused on his soldiers, he was flown by helicopter to the forward operating base's hospital. There, doctors discovered he had severe internal bruising to his major organs and ribs and internal bleeding, injuries that earned him a Purple Heart, which was presented to him in a ceremony earlier this month.

"I'm very honored," McDowell said. "So many great soldiers have gotten this medal before me, and it's really a great honor."

A few hours after the incident, McDowell's wife, Tamara, received a phone call that every military wife hopes to never receive.

Like many military family members, Tamara, who lives on base at Fort Riley, constantly tries to keep the thought of her husband being in danger out of her mind. She works full time and volunteers to keep herself, and her mind, busy.

"I kind of play the 'dumb, happy' wife. I feel like the less that I know, the less that I have to worry about. …

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