Veteran of Afghan conflict receives Purple Heart

Man led soldiers on 244 combat missions and 43 engagements with the enemy

By Tom Thelen
Lansing State Journal

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - One of the first things that retired 1st Lt. William Milzarski did after he was presented with his Purple Heart was apologize to Michelle, his wife of 25 years.

"Because I'm wearing this I almost did not fulfill my promise to come home," Milzarski said. "But I'm home now."

The Bath Township resident was honored for his bravery in service to his country during a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda, according to the Lansing State Journal.

Milzarski, 45, served nine months in Afghanistan with the Army's First Infantry Division. His unit was assigned to the Maywand District in the Kandahar Province, near the border with Pakistan. During his tour, he led 24 soldiers on 244 combat missions and 43 engagements with the enemy.

"Every mission we went on was deadly," Milzarski said. "The mission in which I was wounded was not the most dangerous mission we had."

He was wounded on May 27, 2011, during a firefight. An enemy bullet ricocheted off of a nearby stone and struck him in the face.

Despite the injury, Milzarski remained in the battle.

"This is not just an honor for me but for all those who donned the uniform and said 'I'll go.' I wish to remember the six men who didn't come back from their missions under my command. I almost brought you home," Milzarski said.

"I also wish to recognize my children who could not be here today because they are wearing that uniform and guarding the gates. Your daddy is very proud of you all."

Two of Milzarski's children are currently serving in the military. A third has retired.

"All four of us were serving in the military at the same time at one point," Milzarski said.

Some days have stayed with him more than the others. There was the day his unit came upon a road lined with improvised explosive devices. Many members of his unit suffered life-threatening injuries. Milzarski attended to the injured. He called for a helicopter to evacuate the area.

"The helicopter came in and landed in an area that was full of IEDs," Milzarski said. "We tried to call it off but could not."

With the help of his two Afghan translators and other members of the unit, Milzarski managed to load the wounded into the helicopter.

Both of those translators were in attendance to see Milzarski honored last week. Milzarski is working to help them immigrate to the United States.

"I believe we owe these young men a debt of honor as they risked their lives serving with us," Milzarski said. "Their lives would be in great danger if they returned to Afghanistan."

Milzarski has post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his tour and receives about two hours of counseling each week. He is employed with the Department of Civil Rights as a rights representative for the Division of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing, covering a variety of issues, including compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"His expertise and knowledge have been very helpful to our department. He has been a great asset," said Matthew Wesaw, executive director of the Department of Civil Rights.

For Milzarski, the Purple Heart brings some degree of closure to his military service.

"It's kind of a capstone to my military career. It says I did my job."

Published: Thu, Mar 19, 2015

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