Two weeks ago, we carried a story about a Frostburg State University student who is doing active research into material that someday could be used to create America’s military and police body armor. (See: “FSU Army veteran ...,” Page 6A, March 17 Times-News.)
Submitted by the university, it said U.S. Army Sgt. Brent Patterson had been wounded three times. He rendered first aid to wounded squad members on each occasion while ignoring his own injuries. He ultimately received three decorations of the Purple Heart.
The strory added, “Having been wounded in action three times, he had a more than casual motivation for his project to succeed.”
And now ... as the late Paul Harvey used to say on his radio show ... the rest of the story.
Patterson was one of several young veterans I met last November at the SALUTE induction ceremony conducted by the FSU Veterans Service. SALUTE is a national honor society for veterans.
What I heard about them reminded me that many of those who serve our country have what author Tom Wolfe once called “The Right Stuff.”
Frostburg State’s story about Patterson was fascinating. It said that when processed properly, the material he is researching is stronger than steel or Kevlar, but no one had demonstrated that the same way his project did.
“We were essentially making paper — highly dense paper,” said Patterson.
The Chinese invented paper, possibly as early as 100 B.C. They layered it to make body armor, and modern tests show that it was stronger than leather, metal or other materials that existed back then and was lighter.
Patterson is polite, pleasant and friendly.
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin’s representative Robin Summerfield read for us a tribute to Patterson that Cardin introduced into the Congressional Record last November.
Suddenly, I was leaning forward in my chair with a growing case of the chills. I found out later from some of my buddies in the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 172 color guard and other friends that my feelings weren’t unique in that room.
It’s not every day that you hear “with significant injuries,” “while under fire” and “ignored his own safety to drag his severely wounded squad leader to safety” in one sentence.
Here is the salient part of Cardin’s statement:
On Dec. 9, 2010, Sgt. Patterson and his squad were attacked while operating a traffic control point in the Charkh Bazaar (in Afghanistan).
With significant injuries from a grenade to his upper body and while under fire, Sgt. Patterson ignored his own safety in order to drag his severely wounded squad leader to safety and direct his remaining squad members into defensive positions.
After first aid and medical transport had been arranged for his squad leader, Sgt. Patterson and three other members of his squad accompanied the transport on foot to their command outpost to provide protection against additional attacks.
Having secured his squad leader and team at their command post, Sgt. Patterson was treated for his injuries and returned to his post the following day.
On July 24, 2011, Sgt. Patterson and three members of his squad were conducting security at the Charkh Bazaar when an improvised explosive device detonated, collapsing the building in which they were positioned.
As his platoon sergeant radioed for medical assistance, Sgt. Patterson conducted a search for the remaining members of the squad and administered first aid.
He and two other members of his squad were medevac’d to Forward Operating Base Shank to receive treatment for traumatic brain injuries.
On Aug. 5, 2011, on Sgt. Patterson’s second day back after two weeks of treatment and observation for his injuries, he and his squad were again conducting security in the bazaar when a grenade was tossed into his position, landing on his shoulder and coming to rest near his back.
The grenade detonated, resulting in significant injuries to Sgt. Patterson and three other members of his squad.
Sgt. Patterson ignored the heavy bleeding from his own back and administered first aid to his platoon leader and provided assistance to medics treating the other wounded soldiers.
Sgt. Patterson was admitted to Frostburg State University in western Maryland in 2016. He is on course to graduate next May with a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering with a minor in math and physics.
He continues to have significant pain from shrapnel in his back, arms, neck, and shoulder, but he refuses to take pain medication so he can remain focused like a laser beam on his studies.
To date, Patterson has received three decorations of what’s called “the award nobody wants” because you must be wounded or even die to qualify for the Purple Heart.
It took several years and the efforts of FSU officials, his fiancee and Maryland’s two United States senators for that to happen.
I have been told by Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient John Baca and World War II medic Uncle Abe Goldsworthy (both of them Purple Heart recipients), what it feels like to be hit by shrapnel that burrows and burns its way into your flesh until it hits bone. The burrowing stops, but the burning only gets worse.
Like Patterson, they served in the United States Army. Be all that you can be.
I remember being outraged years ago, toward the end of the Vietnam War and afterward, when some intellectual jackasses began to say that America’s stature among nations was in decline because it no longer was willing to send its brightest and best out to engage in its defense.
Maybe America had stopped sending the children of certain elite families who had figured out how to keep them out of the service, but by no means all of them. Any number of our veterans today are among America’s leaders, and I have met a number of them.
Besides — being elite doesn’t make you brighter or better.
Consider what Patterson once did for his country nearly a decade ago in uniform, and what he now is doing for it as a research engineer. If he isn’t one of America’s brightest and best, I don’t know who in the hell is.
The same could be said of the other young men and women who stood beside him at the SALUTE ceremony and many of those who serve in today’s military.
The leadership, team-building and job skills they are honing, and the values they are displaying, bode well for America’s future.