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Madison Heights

January 9, 2013

Soldier back home after coming under attack overseas

Local man receives Purple Heart, Army Commendation of Valor

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Spc. Patrick Tackett, of Madison Heights, stands in uniform while on deployment outside a U.S. combat outpost in Afghanistan. He is back home now, after he was injured by a roadside bomb and subsequent attack.
The following are the names of the men who were with Specialist Patrick Tackett when they came under attack in Afghanistan May 20. All are from Michigan:

• Sergeant David Jackson, of Niles, the truck  commander
• Specialist Eric Lund, of Grand Rapids, the gunner
• Specialist Jason White, of Grand Rapids, the dismount that day
• Sergeant Brock Holland, of Kalamazoo, the medic

MADISON HEIGHTS — A 26-year-old Madison Heights resident is back home after showing his true colors in the heat of battle — the colors of a hero.

Specialist Patrick Tackett, member of the Michigan Army National Guard, deployed to Afghanistan one year ago this month, but his tour of duty was cut short by an enemy attack that dealt him severe injuries.

The day of the incident was May 20, 2012. Patrick was with Charlie Troop, the 1st of the 126th, driving a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle, or MRAP, in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan — what the Army calls Regional Command South.

It was mid-morning when, en route to a remote village for a security check, Patrick drove over a bomb. It was a pressure-plated mine, buried off the beaten trail, and it sent the MRAP flying.

“When I ran over it, I remember it sounded like a bomb went off underwater, like a muffled explosion from inside the cab, and then I had a feeling almost as if I were on a rollercoaster, because the truck was hit in the back, and flipped us upside-down,” Patrick recalled. “I was knocked unconscious for a couple minutes, and then when I came to, I was hanging upside-down, dazed and confused, not sure what had happened.

“Then it hit me all at once, and I realized what had taken place,” he said, adding, “I was in a lot of pain.”

Reaching for his harness, Patrick unbuckled himself and fell to the roof of the truck. He could smell diesel fuel everywhere, yet the first thing he thought of was the safety of his buddies.

He crawled out of the truck — and realized he couldn’t stand because his back was hurt. Feeling panic, he nevertheless dragged himself to one of his comrades who was still trapped in the truck. His unit’s team leader was already up on his feet, calling for support. Then the insurgents who set the bomb started shooting from the mountains, and Patrick’s leader yelled at him to return fire.

Still unable to use his legs, Patrick found himself laying suppressive fire while dragging his comrade to safety. Support was on the way, but it was disrupted when a nearby convoy also hit a mine.

In the end, 10 of the wounded were evacuated by medical transport, Patrick included, and all 10 received Purple Hearts. Patrick also received the Army Commendation of Valor for his acts of heroism.

But it came at a price: He suffered a mild traumatic brain injury and ruptured both of his eardrums, either from the bomb or the rounds fired. While his eardrums have healed — except for faint ringing that makes him turn on a fan or the TV at night to help get to sleep — he’s still recovering from the effects of his other injuries — two compressed fractured vertebrae in his mid-back, and nerve damage in his arms and legs from two bulging discs in both his neck and lower back.     

Currently, he’s still serving with the Army, working at the Detroit Military Entrance Processing Station, while continuing medical treatment at the VA Hospital in Detroit. He’ll have to see a specialist to find out if surgery is needed for his arm. At some point, he’ll be re-evaluated, and if he’s deemed unfit for duty, he’ll medically retire.

But he says he wants to continue to serve.

“There are definitely a lot of things that will probably never go away, that I’ll have with me for the rest of my life, but ultimately, I’m happy to be home, and I don’t regret any of it,” Patrick said. “I’d do it again, if I had to go back.”

It wasn’t his first trip to hostile territory. Previously, Patrick had served in Iraq in 2009 and 2010. He was inspired by his brother to join the military. The second youngest of four boys, his oldest brother, George Jr., 29, did three years active duty with the Army before becoming a Detroit cop; his second oldest brother, Jonathan, 27, currently serves in the Maryland Army National Guard; and his youngest brother, Joseph, 24, is with the Michigan Army National Guard, based in Grayling, as an Army firefighter.

“My oldest brother did his stuff first,” Patrick said. “When he got out, I was contemplating it, back and forth, back and forth. Then, in 2008, I finally took the leap and signed up.”

He said there’s a certain homesickness that sets in after the early stages of deployment; first, you’re ready to get your boots on the ground and complete the mission, but then separation from family and friends starts to wear on you.

Patrick said it’s a whole different world in Afghanistan.

“It’s very mountainous,” he said. “The area I was in wasn’t built-up cities or anything; they were small villages, all mud huts off the beaten path, like the Stone Age. In the summertime, it gets really hot, but they do have a winter season, and a couple times it snowed on us. It gets cold — some of the coldest nights I’ve ever had were overseas. And there’s a terrible smell — you don’t want to go outside there to get a breath of fresh air.”

His unit would routinely check villages, making sure they were safe. He’d stand guard while his team leader talked to the village elders. While he waited, children would often come up to him — some suspicious, and others asking for food. 

Now Patrick is back at home, surrounded by people who love him, and his family couldn’t be happier to see him. He called up his parents after his injury and assured them he was OK. They broke down in tears as soon as they hung up the phone.

“We cried like a baby, me and his mother, both,” said George Tackett, Patrick’s father. “I, myself, have no military background — I was a street sweeper. I don’t know how I’d react in that situation. Every day while (my sons) are gone, it’s kind of a battle to go on living, not knowing what they’re going through. I can’t even imagine. I’m very proud of all my sons.”

Patrick returned home in time for the holidays. George said that hearing his son was back in the U.S. was like Christmas come early.

“We probably hurt his neck and back with all the hugs we gave him,” George said, his voice cracking. “It was just incredible.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at akozlowski@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1104.