The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Rodger Nichols
For The Sentinel 

Second Track Chair recipient named

 

Rodger Nichols for The Sentinel

INCREDIBLE HEROISM: MarkDaniel Brasel, wife Ariel, and stepdaughter Bentley. Brasel was wounded several times serving in Iraq. He will receive a Track Chair July 19 from the citizens of Goldendale.

The Track Chair for a Hero Committee has raised close to $30,000 from the Goldendale community since January to provide specialized Track Chairs to wounded veterans returning from Iraq and/or Afghanistan. Those funds have allowed the purchase of chairs for two such veterans. The following is our second profile of the two recipients.

Both veterans will be in Goldendale for a special salute dinner on July 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the Goldendale Grange, at which the men will be presented their chairs. In addition to the two veterans, Sue Maloney of the Army Wounded Warrior Program will be present to speak. The dinner is free to the public, though tickets are required to attend. Tickets are available at the American Legion and the Greater Goldendale Area Chamber of Commerce.

Markdaniel Brasel knew exactly what he wanted when he graduated from Toledo High School in June, 2000. "My grandfather was a Ranger," he told the Track Chair for a Hero Committee, "and so I wanted to be an Army Ranger from Day One."

He signed up right away, and by Sept. 11, 2001, he had completed basic training, Airborne School, and the Ranger Introdoctrination Program. He was sitting in a classroom in Fort Benning, Georgia, prepping for a training mission into Honduras, when the twin towers went down. Not even five minutes later, Brasel said, his First Sergeant came in and said that the Pentagon had been hit as well.

"That's when the whole classroom got up and walked out." Brasel said, "and the guy teaching the class on mosquitos was like, 'Where are you guys going?' We were like. 'We're not going to Honduras any more.'"

He was right. The Latin motto of the Rangers is Sua Sponte ("By our own choice") and the English motto is, "Rangers lead the way." As an Infantry Airborne Ranger, Brasel was part of that leading edge. He served five tours-two in Iraq and three in Afghanistan, for a total of 36 months of combat duty.

Brasel did not have an easy time of it. Just 37 days after that walkout, while performing combat operations with the 3rd BN, 75th Ranger Regiment, he was involved in a helicopter crash that killed two of the people on board and gave him a severe concussion. He concealed the severity from his unit due to the particular warrior culture of the Rangers.

"I was a 20-year-old stud, so I just pushed through it," he said with a rueful smile. "A Ranger Battallion is a volunteer unit. Back then, in '01, pain was a sign of weakness. We didn't want any crybabies; we needed the elite. So you suck it up and drive on."

That turned out to be the first of many. "During his combat service," the Veterans Adminstration wrote to the Track Chair Committee, "SSG Brasel suffered multiple concussions spanning over 30 IEDs [improvised explosive device], two VBEDs [vehicle-based explosive devices], RPG, direct fire, and indirect fire."

One of those occurred on Valentine's Day, 2005, while serving in Iraq with the 2-14th Cavalry, 1st BDE, 25th Infantry Division. Brasel was in a Stryker that triggered a 1,000-pound IED coupled with an EFP (explosively formed penetrator), designed to cripple armored vehicles. The Stryker was destroyed, and Brasel found himself trapped inside its hatch. His injuries included wounds to the face and eyes, and he lost consciousness. It took him two months in treatment before he could return to duty.

Just weeks after his return, Brasel was serving at Command Operation Post on April 7, 2005, when a white phosphorus mortar round landed just five feet away, embedding shrapnel and white phosphorous into both of his legs and groin. "At that time, I could run two miles in 11 minutes, so when I couldn't move my legs, I knew something was wrong." Surgeons would find many pieces of shrapnel in his legs, groin, and stomach.

The Army doctors wanted to send him to Walter Reed after that, but his colonel found that Brasel wanted to stay with his buddies. "He later told me, 'You don't throw away your elite if they want to stay with their unit,'" Brasel said. And buddies started calling him Spic 'n' Span "because they could throw anything at me, but I'd just keep on going."

That decision could have cost him his life. On October 19, 2007, Brasel was targeted by a sniper in Sadar City and struck by a round in the back plate of his body armor; the impact knocked him to the ground. That back plate, with its bullet strike, is now mounted in a plaque on the wall of his den.

Brasel's list of medals and awards is too long to reproduce here, but it includes a Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts, and two Army Commendation Medals.

Rodger Nichols for The Sentinel

THe BULLET DIDN'T GET THROUGH: On a wall in MarkDaniel Brasel's home is the body armor he was wearing when a sniper fired at him. The bullet made a huge hole in the armor-but not in him.

By 2009, Brasel began developing further medical problems from his wounds and from the white phosphorous, which has caused problems with his blood chemistry. He is currently medically retired and is being treated for Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (m-TBI) from all the blasts, multiple shrapnel wounds, and ongoing treatments for white phosphorous. One of his eyes is damaged, causing problems with depth perception.

Brasel walks slowly and haltingly with his cane these days and for short distances only. He can't drive a car any more, and though he loves going on hunting trips to Idaho. "I can get in the Gator [a small four-wheeler], but it can't get to where the hunting blinds are, so I'm stuck in the Gator or they're carrying me on their backs, which isn't much fun."

He says a Track Chair would let him visit all the five acres he owns near Elma. Right now, he can only get to one of those five acres, the flat ground surrounding the house. It would also be a real blessing in playing with his active five-year-old stepdaughter, Bentley. "When my legs are tired, they are tired," he said. "And a five-year-old doesn't get tired."

 

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