The events of Dec. 21, 2004, will forever be etched in John Grant's mind.
Working in Iraq with his company, Engineering Solutions and Products Inc., the Grovetown resident was one day away from being reunited with his wife, Capt. Linda Grant, and seeing his newborn son, John, for the first time.
"The man was behind me. I never saw him," said Mr. Grant, whose life nearly ended that day when a suicide bomber entered the mess hall in Mosul. "I thought it was a mortar or rocket attack."
Ball bearings from the bomb entered his back and exited through his abdomen, leaving a trail of massive internal injuries and a lifetime of recovery ahead.
On Feb. 27, Grant was honored for his service in a ceremony at Fort Gordon's Conrad Hall, where he received the civilian equivalent of a Purple Heart - the Defense of Freedom Medal.
Brig. Gen. Nickolas Justice, the deputy program executive officer for Command, Control and Communications at Fort Monmouth, N.J., pinned the medal on Mr. Grant.
Justice was the commander of a task force in which Grant was a member. There were only 14 service members in the unit and 1,100 civilians.
"That is a radical shift," Justice said. "We operate like that now with a lot of government civilians' and contractors' support, doing historically uniform jobs."
The Defense of Freedom Medal was created in 2001 to honor Department of Defense employees killed or injured in the line of duty.
"This is not an award I wanted to receive," Grant said.
He said, however, that there is little he would have changed. His injuries have allowed him to be home with his son and watch him grow.
He also has experienced the outpouring from concerned people at Engineering Solutions and Products Inc.; many of whom he never met until he received the medal.
Grant said he is grateful to the Army surgeons at Walter Reed and Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Centers.
His injuries initially left him paralyzed from the waist down.
"All of the Army surgeons have done incredible things here - things that have never been done," he said.
He knows he will continue to need medical care throughout his life. Some of the treatments, he said, might have only a temporary effect. He lives in pain and has problems with his short-term memory.
He also credits his wife, who is with Fort Gordon's 56th Signal Battalion, and his mother-in-law, Joan James, with his recovery.
"Those two are the heroes. All I did was get blown up," he said.
Reach Charmain Z. Brackett at email@example.com.
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