FORT IRWIN • It's been nearly two years since an improvised explosive device detonated from underneath a paved road in Afghanistan and sent the armored security vehicle commanded by 1st Lt. Lukas Toth flying into the air.
Toth finally received a Purple Heart for his injuries during a recent ceremony at Fort Irwin, where his commanders had persisted for months to prove he deserved the honor.
"Fort Irwin took care of it," Toth said. "It is a prime example of people taking care of people."
In 2010, Toth was serving as an executive officer and distribution platoon leader near Khost city, Afghanistan. His company's mission was to provide fuel, food, water, ammunition and vehicle maintenance for a security task force that was working to train the Afghan army and local police.
"We had a sizeable chunk of the Pakistan border as well," Toth said. "We supplied and maintained a couple of outposts there. We even got to teach Afghans how to fix Humvees. We gave them Humvees, but they needed to learn how to fix them."
On June 6, 2010, Toth, his driver and gunner were violently slammed up and down when an IED detonated under their vehicle.
The three men were examined later that day by an Army doctor, with Toth experiencing a severe headache. After an X-ray, he was told, "You are good to go."
Toth continued on with his deployment and didn't even inform his wife, Anna, of the incident, so as not to worry her while she was caring for their 7-month-old daughter, Olivia, at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Toth's gunner got better about a month after the explosion, but he and his driver did not.
"Things didn't go away," Toth said. "Things weren't getting better."
He was given several prescriptions and was still taking them when he returned from the deployment to Fort Campbell in February 2011. Toth jumped back into physical training but it proved to be too much.
"I started working out again," Toth said. "I started running again and things just fell apart."
It turned out the explosion caused problems with Toth's back and legs. Medical tests and exams proved that his lower body had been damaged and that was affecting his ability to regain his previous condition. Still, Toth said he feels lucky.
"It makes you realize what could have happened and we've heard of people in similar situations that weren't so lucky," Anna Toth said. "It really made us more thankful. It's brought us closer."
Toth was recommended to receive a Purple Heart by his commander in Afghanistan after the attack. But it wasn't until a few months after he arrived to Fort Irwin and the National Training Center in June 2011 that the wheels of the award process really started turning, as leadership with his current 1916th Support Battalion conducted interviews and gathered documents to support the honor.
"Here was a soldier who had been injured while in combat as a direct result of enemy action," said Lt. Col. Peter Kalamaras, who currently commands the 1916th and helped start the inquiries that led to the medal. "Regardless if those wounds are visible, he is likely to have the remnants of those injuries with him for the rest of his life."
Toth, a native of Greensburg, Pa., remains under the care of a doctor at Fort Irwin but was allowed to get back into running in January.
"In March he was able to complete the run component of the Army Physical Fitness Test and he routinely participates in my monthly 4-mile Battalion Run without fail," Kalamaras said.
He recently joined chapter 711 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Las Vegas and is looking forward to community service endeavors, which the organization promotes with its members. The opportunity to volunteer is not a new venture for Toth, who received the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal as a young enlisted man in the Coast Guard for helping out with the Red Cross.
The experience of having been wounded and having to wait almost two years for the Army to officially recognize his combat injuries have not changed Toth's devotion to military service.
"The Purple Heart wasn't why I joined the Army," Toth said. "I love the Army. I've been in the service — it'll be 10 years in June between my Coast Guard, Army enlisted and officer time. I intend to stay."