Spc. Robert Zanfrandino said it was “sobering” to be pinned with the Purple Heart medal while standing among 11 of his fellow soldiers.
All of the soldiers were wounded in four separate incidents while deployed with 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, during the brigade’s most recent nine-month deployment to Afghanistan.
Standing in a line on Cooper Field on June 4, Brig. Gen. Michael Bills, division commander, pinned the medal on the uniform of each soldier.
Zanfrandino was wounded Jan. 20 when Forward Operating Base Pasab was attacked by a force of heavily armed insurgents.
“I woke up to a big boom,” he said.
The soldier’s platoon then launched a counter-attack, with Zanfradino acting as the gunner of the lead truck, according to the award citation. With the enemy firing just feet away, Zanfradino calmly engaged his targets.
“In the process of returning fire Spc. Zanfradino was heedless of his turret being struck over 20 times, his M240B being damaged by enemy fire, and receiving multiple wounds from enemy ricochets and spall,” the citation states.
The specialist was able to stay in theater and was treated for shrapnel to the shoulder. A warrant officer from 2nd Cavalry Regiment was killed in the attack.
Staff Sgt. Justin Ellis was wounded during the incident at Pasab by a bullet grazing his neck. The infantryman always thought if he ever received a Purple Heart, it would be for being wounded while on one of the many patrols he conducted downrange — not inside the wire.
“That day they happened to hit at home. It was not expected,” Ellis said. “I take the (Purple Heart) with honor, but it’s not something you wish for.”
Sgt. William Schwartz said he was happy to see the battalion’s soldiers able to stand on the field with him in spite of how many dangerous interactions occurred.
“All things considered, we fared a lot better than expected,” he said. “I’m standing next to some good guys.”
Schwartz sustained a traumatic brain injury while on patrol outside of Pasab on Feb. 22.
Seven of the other soldiers honored were wounded on the same day.
The battalion returned from Afghanistan’s Regional Command South in April.
Lt. Col. Matt Kinkead, battalion commander, said he was proud of the soldiers for their dedication to the mission.
“You just kept getting after it,” he said.