An Army priest is awarded the Purple Heart
By Deacon Greg Kandra
AUGUST 1, 2007 (http://deacbench.blogspot.com) - We all know there's a vocation shortage -- and that extends, of course, into the military, where they just don't have enough chaplains.
So it's even more unusual, and inspiring, to hear of a chaplain winning the Purple Heart. Below is his story:
U.S. Army Chaplain Father Eric Albertson, deputy installation chaplain and Catholic pastor at Fort Belvoir, VA, was recently awarded the Purple Heart for injuries acquired while serving with the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Iraq in 2004.
At the end of a Sunday Mass earlier this month, Col. Emmett O’Hare began telling the congregation that they were about to experience a meaningful event.
“I was taken by the surprise on Sunday,” Father Albertson said later. “Afterward, when I was speaking with Col. O’Hare, I shared with him that I really did not want a formal presentation. His comments to me were, ‘I understand that Father, but it is important to remember that sometimes it’s not about the individual receiving the award, but the nation that presents it. Your people needed to see this.’”
In 2004, Father Albertson was a brigade chaplain deployed to a forward operating base in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. On the afternoon of Nov. 11, Father Albertson was in a military convoy returning from a mission to a remote outpost. At approximately 4 p.m., the convoy was attacked by multiple IEDs and small arms fire. The vehicle he was riding in was one of several that were hit. It careened out of control, and Father Albertson sustained direct combat related injuries. He was taken to a Battalion Aid station for treatment, and was diagnosed with a severe concussion.
Not one to be deterred, he was back at work and celebrating Mass that same weekend, and immediately resumed traveling around the combat zone to minister to his soldiers.
“Father Albertson’s devout faith runs as deep as his dedication to soldiers,” said Col. Gary S. Patton, Father Albertson’s commander. “He was at his best while ministering at the front lines or while comforting friends of a fallen comrade.”
“(Father) Eric ensured that every soldier and Marine in the brigade combat team received the religious services they deserved no matter where they were located,” said Lt. Col. Robert Bialek. “He knows he has a mission to be out there with the soldiers, to comfort the wounded, guide the concerned and console those who have lost a friend. He is brave under fire and that, in itself, instills an inner strength in the soldiers.”
During his tour in Iraq, Father Albertson’s unit took fire indirectly four to five days a week. More than 100 of his troops were killed and more than 650 wounded.
Fr. Albertson sounds like an extraordinary priest -- and an extraordinary American.