Sgt. Jaime Hernandez-Pagan, 34, of Company B, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, was awarded a Purple Heart yesterday in a ceremony at Tripler Army Medical Center. With him was wife Janice, who returned from Puerto Rico to be with her husband. Hernandez-Pagan was injured in a bombing last month in Afghanistan.

Purple Heart recipient
is raring to return to duty

Sgt. Hernandez-Pagan
was hurt when his vehicle
ran over a bomb in Afghanistan

If Sgt. Jaime Hernandez-Pagan had it his way, he would be back on combat duty in Afghanistan in a wheelchair.

"The show must go on," said the 25th Infantry soldier, his leg still in a cast from an attack against his convoy in Afghanistan last month.

"Of course, you want to be with your group," he said. "They have to get this done and get back safe."

Hernandez-Pagan, 34, was awarded the Purple Heart -- the military's oldest decoration -- yesterday in a ceremony at Tripler Army Medical Center. He said he would trade the medal for a chance to return to his Hawaii-based unit.

"He didn't want to be here," said Tripler's acting commander, Col. Johnie Tillman. "He wanted to be with his soldiers."

Tillman pinned the Purple Heart on Hernandez-Pagan -- in a wheelchair because he cannot put pressure on his leg -- as hospital staff and the sergeant's friends looked on. His wife and three children, ages 13, 12 and 10, were unable to attend, but came after the ceremony to congratulate him.

"He's a great soldier," said Lt. Col. Scott McBride, Hernandez-Pagan's battalion commander.

McBride, on leave from Afghanistan until today, said he has known Hernandez-Pagan since 2002 and that he is a "dedicated professional."

Hernandez-Pagan was wounded Oct. 27 when the truck he was in ran over a roadside bomb in Qalat, Afghanistan. He was the truck's commander and in the front passenger seat.

The attack happened about midnight, and he was the only one wounded, an Army news release said.

Hernandez-Pagan said he sustained a compound fracture that broke the skin on his left leg, which is still in a cast and will require more surgery. Shrapnel went into his left knee.

"It's just a risk we take every time we go out on a mission," he said. "Getting hurt in Afghanistan is just my duty. Infantry is just about risk."

Hernandez-Pagan, of Puerto Rico, accepted the award on behalf of "all the soldiers who are getting hurt in Afghanistan."

"I got a pretty good unit, a pretty good group of soldiers," he said with a wide smile. "They're awesome."

McBride said Hernandez-Pagan could return to his unit once he is well, but would need an OK from his doctors to get back to combat.

The 25th Infantry's Company B, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, has been in Afghanistan for about eight months, McBride said. They are set to finish their deployment in February.

Hernandez-Pagan said his wife and kids moved to Puerto Rico from Hawaii after he left for Afghanistan, but are back in Honolulu while he recuperates. That meant there was an upside to his injury: He was able to spend Thanksgiving -- complete with "lots of Puerto Rican food" -- with family.

More than 100 Schofield Barracks soldiers have been awarded or recommended to receive the Purple Heart for wounds they got in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Purple Hearts have also been awarded posthumously to many of the 43 soldiers with Hawaii ties killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait, Army officials said.

25th Infantry Division


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