It was June 6, 2010 when an improvised explosive device detonated from underneath a paved road in Afghanistan and blasted into the air the armored security vehicle commanded by 1st Lt. Lukas Toth.
A few months after Toth arrived at Fort Irwin in June 2011, the wheels of the award process starting turning and did not stop moving until he was rightfully honored with a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in that attack.
Toth, who serves as battalion operations officer for the 1916th Support Battalion, was bestowed the award during a ceremony here April 5.Â The previous 1916th command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Seymor, and Lt. Col. Peter Kalamaras, current commander of the 1916th, started the inquiries that eventually led to processing the requirements for the late award.
â€œHere was a Soldier who had been injured while in combat as a direct result of enemy action,â€ Kalamaras said. â€œRegardless if those wounds are visible, he is likely to have the remnants of those injuries with him for the rest of his life. The least we as leaders could do was submit him for the Purple Heart, after the fact, for consideration by the first general officer in his chain of command.â€
Toth had been recommended to receive a Purple Heart by his commander in Afghanistan after the attack. The vehicleâ€™s three occupantsÂ â€“ Toth, his driver and gunner â€“ had been violently slammed up and down when the IED detonated under their vehicle. Toth and his Soladiers were examined later that day by an Army doctor. The headache that Toth experienced was attributed to severe whiplash.Â Toth continued on with his deployment. He didnâ€™t even inform his wife, Anna, of the incident, so as not to worry her while she was caring for their 7-month-old daughter, Olivia, at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Tothâ€™s gunner got better about a month after the explosion, but he and his driver did not. The Soldiersâ€™ bodies were intact, but everything was not 100 percent, as is usually the case after IED explosions.Â He was given several prescriptions for his ailments and was still taking them when he returned from the deployment to Fort Campbell in February 2011. Toth jumped back into physical training, but, it proved to be too much for his damaged body.
â€œI started working out again,â€ Toth said. â€œI started running again and things just fell apart.â€
It turned out the explosion caused problems with Tothâ€™s back and legs. Medical tests and exams proved that his lower body had been damaged and that was affecting his ability to regain his previous, fit condition. Toth said he feels lucky to have not been more critically injured.
Anna said that the experience has made them a stronger couple.
â€œIt makes you realize what could have happened and weâ€™ve heard of people in similar situations that werenâ€™t so lucky,â€ said Anna. â€œIt really made us more thankful. Itâ€™s brought us closer.â€
The experience of having been wounded and having to wait almost two years for the Army to officially recognize his combat injuries have not changed Tothâ€™s devotion to military service.
â€œI love the Army,â€ Toth said. â€œIâ€™ve been in the service â€“ itâ€™ll be 10 years in June â€“ between my Coast Guard, Army enlisted, and officer time. I intend to stay.â€
And he intends to get better physically. Toth remains under the care of a doctor at Fort Irwin and he was allowed to get back into running in January.
â€œThe Purple Heart wasnâ€™t why I joined the Army,â€ Toth said. â€œIâ€™m a professional Soldier and I need to be fit to fight. I didnâ€™t come [to Fort Irwin] saying I want a Purple Heart. I did tell my commander up front that Iâ€™d been hurt, that I had medical issues, and that I had to get care.â€
Toth recently joined Chapter 711 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Las Vegas and is looking forward to community service endeavors, which the organization promotes with its members. The opportunity to volunteer is not a new venture for Toth, who received the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal as a young enlisted man in the Coast Guard for helping out with the Red Cross.
â€œI miss that,â€ Toth said about volunteering. â€œIâ€™ve used the excuse that as Iâ€™ve moved up in rank and become an officer, Iâ€™m too busy. Getting involved with the Purple Heart chapter kind of made me realize that I can â€“ I can do it. I joined the chapter and I think itâ€™s going to help me be a better citizen in general.â€
Kalamaras said that Toth synchronizes mission and training requirements for the battalion, displays meticulous attention to detail and aggressively anticipates future requirements that make the organization successful.
â€œA vital member of our headquarters’ staff, 1st Lt. Toth’s contributions to our team have been exceptional,â€ Kalamaras said.
Toth, a native of Greensburg, Pa., realizes the importance of his position at the Armyâ€™s training center in the Mojave Desert.
â€œMy commander has put a lot of faith in me,â€ Toth said. â€œI have an important job. Iâ€™m helping train Soldiers and keeping Soldiers ready.â€