More than a year after receiving the honor at Fort Gordon, the South Carolina national guardsman said that at least once a week he honors the three soldiers who never made it home from his unit’s deployment to Afghanistan in 2012.
They were 1st Lt. Ryan Rawl, 30; Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Bradford, 30; and Sgt. John Meador II, 36.
All three died that June 20, when a suicide bomber attacked a vehicle checkpoint that Bland’s unit – the 133rd Military Police Company – was manning outside Khowst City.
“Losing three of our guys is still hard for me,” Bland said. “It’s something you never forget.”
The blast threw Bland five feet and paralyzed his legs with ball bearings, but it did not stop him from keeping his fellow soldiers out of harm’s way. He crawled to a nearby intersection and provided security to other soldiers, denying medical care until everyone was safe.
“In the military you never leave a fallen comrade,” said Bland, who spent three months recovering at Fort Gordon’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center before being cleared to return home to his family in Bonneau, S.C.
Today, he works full- and part-time shifts at the Summerville and Charleston fire departments.
He is still a deployable member of the South Carolina National Guard, although he is currently receiving treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs for nerve damage in his leg; neck and back pains; and traumatic brain injury.
On display in his house is his framed Purple Heart, which he received at Eisenhower on Aug. 17, 2012. The medal is next to his Bronze Star, a medal that his unit presented him three months after he received the Purple Heart.
“It’s always important to remember the people who gave their lives for this country,” Bland said of the honors.
Although he said he has limited running ability, that has not stopped him from catching up for lost time with his wife and two young children. They regularly go to the park, and Bland said he might soon coach his children’s soccer teams.
“I love being home,” Bland said. “My family means everything to me.”