Local soldier wins Purple Heart
July 8, 2008
Edwinn Haga had already suffered four concussions in the Iraqi war before the Army soldier was shipped to Ramadi, Iraq, in mid-2006.
Three homemade bombs and a rocket-propelled grenade had exploded near him, leaving him with the head injuries. But at about midnight on July 20, 2006, with his unit on a raid and Haga guarding an intersection, another homemade bomb went off under the full moon.
There was a big flash of light. The boom was loud. Haga was out for 15 seconds and came to as another soldier yelled at him, needing to find out if Haga was hit.
Haga, who is from Boise, Idaho, and has lived in the Park City area since 2007, now renting a condominium in Pinebrook with his girlfriend, wasn’t immediately sure if he was injured. He could not hear in the moments after the blast.
He told the other soldier he thought he had been hit in the blast. Haga then crumpled over, but he implored the unwounded soldiers to help the others first.
"I woke up with one of the soldiers dragging me, face-down, on the asphalt, behind a wall for coverage. I thought I was dead," Haga said in a recent interview, as he prepared to be a grand marshal, with Adam Kelley, who is another injured Iraqi war soldier, in the Independence Day parade in Park City.
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Six pieces of shrapnel pierced his skin. The backs of both of his knees were injured. Two shrapnel pieces were in his hip. Another one was in his neck. The Kevlar helmet he wore, Haga said, saved his life, and a backpack he wore provided him some protection.
"You don’t really feel it — that adrenaline you have," he said.
His commanders put him on another mission four days later. Haga was awarded a Purple Heart, the military medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in battle. He is at least the third soldier with Park City ties to be injured in Iraq. Roadside bombs also injured Jake Larsen and Kelley.
"Fear is not a factor to most infantrymen soldiers. We know what we volunteer for," Haga said.
Haga, who is 24 years old, lived in Tennessee, Nevada and Virginia before settling in Boise. He spent six years as a professional paintball player, traveling to tournaments in the Northwest and working in a range of jobs to help earn a living. He wanted to be a federal agent someday, perhaps in the FBI, the CIA or in the Drug Enforcement Administration. Working in the ballistics field also sounded rewarding.
A little more than two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Haga joined the Army. Basic training was in Fort Benning, Ga., and he was shipped to Germany. He was sent to Iraq on Jan. 9, 2006.
"That’s where the war was. That’s where we had conflict," he said. "I don’t want to sit behind a desk, be a desk jockey. I signed up for infantry."
He was put in a regiment of Bravo Company. Haga called his unit the "most brutal, meanest and the most deadly." About 37 of 60 soldiers he served with were wounded in four months, mostly in Ramadi. He watched his best friend burn to death in a bombing, and another friend lost both his legs during combat.
"It was an honor to serve my country and be injured for my country, but honor comes with extreme guilt," he said.
On Feb. 14, 2007, he left Iraq for a base in Germany. On May 31 that year, the paperwork for his departure from the Army cleared, a month after arriving in Park City.
Haga teaches snowboarding at The Canyons, and he is taking psychology and criminal-justice classes at Salt Lake Community College. He wants to enroll at the University of Utah in 2009 to pursue an undergraduate degree.
"I have changed. Some are for the better," he said, describing the war’s lingering effects. "Some are for the worse."