Sgt. Damon Suiter of West Branch was awarded the purple heart Thursday at the Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center's Collins Center for wounds he received while serving in Iraq. The combat decoration, which was the first purple heart to be awarded at the CRTC, was presented to Suiter by Commander Col. Ewin Sansom.
"This award, it means a lot to me and my family and I'm proud that my children were able to see me get it," Suiter said.
Suiter was injured on Jan. 13, 2007, in Iraq while serving his second tour in the Middle East. He said receiving the Purple Heart brings back a lot of old emotions, that it defies explanation and that it's hard for him to explain what it means and how it feels.
News Photo by Crystal Nelson
Sgt. Damon Suiter stands at attention beside Combat Readiness Training Center Commander Col. Ewin Sansom Thursday before he receives the Purple Heart for injuries he received while serving in Iraq.
"I just want to make it clear, I'm not a hero by any means," Suiter said. "I'm just a regular soldier."
He said if it weren't for his friend, Ronald Zickafuse of Jackson, he "probably wouldn't be standing here today." Zickafuse was at the ceremony along with Suiter's family including Suiter's wife, Priscilla and sons Cade, 9, and Ethan, 5; parents Glenda and Dale Suiter of Atlanta; brother Dale Rayman Suiter of Atlanta; sister Dedra Nau of Atlanta; father and mother-in-law Dale and Carol Holcomb of West Branch and brother-in-law Marshall Heffner of Atlanta.
Suiter said family plays a big part in his life and that his wife along with his parents and his brother took care of him when he was the worst off - in the hospital. The road to recovery has been two years for Suiter and included both hospitalization and rehabilitation.
During the ceremony, Master Sgt. Robert Martinez told all who attended about Suiter's service in the Michigan Army National Guard, read the history of the purple heart and introduced Phil Wiser, who spoke on behalf of the Suiter family. Two veterans who were previously awarded the Purple Heart, Sgt. Marshall Heffner who served in Afghanistan and John Vick who served in Vietnam, also attended the ceremony.
The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who has been wounded, killed, died after being wounded or has been held as a prisoner of war.
Suiter said he grew up knowing he was going to be in the military, as serving in the military is a family tradition.
"The military tradition goes all the way back to 1776," he said. "We've got a member of our family, Charles Suiter, he was in the First Virginia Regiment in the continental army."
Suiter entered the military service enlisted in the Michigan Army National Guard on Oct. 10, 2001.
He served in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt with Charley Company 125th infantry during his first Middle Eastern tour as an 11B20 Infantryman. His second Middle Eastern tour was with the 1461st Transportation Battalion of the Michigan Army National Guard as a 88M20 Motor Transport Operator.
Besides the Purple Heart, Suiter's awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Multinational Forces and Observers Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M Device, Combat Action Badge, Army Service Ribbon, Michigan Outside US Service Ribbon, Michigan State War on Terrorism Ribbon and Expert Marksmanship Qualification Badge.
Suiter was placed on the retired list July 20, 2008. He said serving in the military was a great seven years and a great career.
"I don't regret any of it. I actually enjoyed the majority of it," he said. "I don't regret going to Iraq, I don't regret what happened to me because it was all for the service of the country."
Crystal Nelson can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5693.