Sgt. First Class Carlos R. Porres Jr. and Staff Sgt. Deanna M. Lucchesi, both assigned to Fort Rucker’s NCO Academy, received hearts on Monday — not to celebrate love, but to honor the wounds they sustained in Iraq two years ago.

Both Porres and Lucchesi, deployed with the 82nd Aviation Regiment as part of Task Force Scarecrow, suffered concussions during the Jan. 7, 2020 Iranian missile strike against U.S. personnel serving at Iraqi bases in Al-Asad and Irbil.

Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles in retaliation for the assassination of Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani days prior.

According to the Army press release announcing Porres and Lucchesi’s Purple Hearts, it was the largest ballistic missile operation ever perpetuated against U.S. forces.

The Purple Heart ceremony was aptly held at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum on Valentine’s Day, hosted by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command’s commanding general, Gen. Paul E. Funk II.

“On a day like today when we talk about hearts and love, I can think of no finer tribute than to award a couple of Purple Hearts, because that constitutes love of each other, love of Nation, and love of our way of life,” Funk said, according to the press release.

“We’re all immensely proud of what these (soldiers) did, who they are, and what they stand for.”

Porres, serving as an MQ-1C Grey Eagle drone operator, recounted his experience in Iraq, stating that he received warning that a threat was imminent while remotely piloting a drone from the ground control station.

“Within minutes one missile hit approximately seven meters from where I was, a second hit shortly after,” he said in the press release. “I continued to fly the aircraft trying to return it, until I completely lost link with the aircraft.”

The ground control station was destroyed by the blasts, and Porres was thrown into a wall and hit by other equipment, sustaining a concussion in the process.

Despite his injury, he was able to lead other soldiers to safety while ensuring no aircraft were lost during the attack, according to the Army.

In a separate part of base, Lucchesi — a Grey Eagle repairer — was taking accountability of soldiers after relocating them to bunkers following a fire started when two ballistic missiles hit within 25 meters of her position, according to the Army. She suffered a concussion and another unspecified injury in the attack.

“I’m glad to finally get a little bit of closure,” Lucchesi said in the press release. “It’s something I’ll live with for the rest of my life, but it truly is a great honor to make it home and continue to serve my country and do what I do every day.”

The two soldiers are not the only ones who were injured in the missile attack, though no U.S. troops were killed.

The Army confirmed in December that the service would be awarding 39 additional Purple Hearts to soldiers injured in the Iranian missile strike, following former President Donald Trump’s dismissal of brain injuries suffered by troops in the January 2020 attack.

In the immediate wake of the attack, Trump downplayed its impact — describing the injuries as “headaches.” That led to political pressure to award fewer Purple Hearts, some of the injured troops told CBS in December.

Pentagon officials may have also initially set an “arbitrary” standard for the awards, requiring that injured troops needed to have been medically evacuated from the base instead of staying and receiving medical care there, according to the CBS news report.

An inspector general report released in November also faulted U.S. Central Command for improperly tracking the TBIs.

Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master's candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.

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