William C. Harlan
FORT LEWIS, Washington - First Sgt
William C. Harlan
remembers seeing the pothole.
could not see the bomb hidden inside.
was standing in the squad leader hatch of a Stryker armored vehicle, leading a patrol in Mosul, Iraq.
The Stryker passed directly over the pothole and the bomb erupted with massive force, catapulting the 20-ton vehicle several feet into the air.
was immediately ejected, blasted some 30 feet away.
"A staff sergeant, two vehicles back, he
saw me fly out," Harlan
recalled of the March 2006 incident.
"I looked like a rag doll.
was convinced I was already dead."
The platoon medic, accompanied by soldiers, rushed over to administer first aid.
, though critically injured, remained calm and directed the security and evacuation plan before being taken to a field hospital.
earned a Purple Heart for his
service that day in Iraq.
But for leadership demonstrated last year in helping other wounded troops cope with suffering and rehabilitation, Harlan
is the 2008 Army Times Soldier of the Year.
Norris was one of several soldiers who nominated Harlan
for the honor.
had returned safely from previous tours in Afghanistan in 2002-03 and Iraq in 1990-91.
"We were all scared because none of us knew what was going to happen," Katy said as tears welled in her
"Our mom told us our dad was hurt really bad, he
was blown up, and that he
might not pull through."
was hospitalized stateside for three months.
underwent 16 major surgeries to repair dozens of broken bones in his
legs, and torn ligaments in his
recovered and walks again, and despite lingering physical and mental pain from the injury, elected to continue serving on active duty.
Indeed, even before he
was medically cleared for duty, Harlan
volunteered to help establish the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis, Wash., a unit designed to help rehabilitate injured combat soldiers.
also volunteered to spend time with the children of fallen soldiers as part of the post's Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors
"I needed to give something back to those who had helped me recover," he
, 39, grew up in Walnut Creek, Calif.
He enlisted in the Army at age 20 in part because he wanted to serve his country.
He opted against becoming an officer.
"I really decided I had more to offer the Army as an NCO than an officer," he said.
"It's a personality thing.
You have much more direct influence on young soldiers' lives as an NCO than you do as an officer."
enthusiasm for the job hasn't been lost on his
"Leadership from the front, always," Capt. Matthew T. Kirby wrote of Harlan.
has received numerous awards during his
military career, which he
began as a mortarman with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Purple Heart and a pair of Bronze Stars adorn the walls of his
apartment near Fort Lewis.
said an investigation into the Stryker bombing indicated the improvised explosive device was likely pressure-triggered and placed there by Sunni insurgents.
would return to Iraq without hesitation.
Above all, Harlan
story inspires others.
"I look at this as a great thing for all wounded soldiers who have struggled to come back," he
's Headquarters Company is Fort Lewis, Washington.
assignment is to the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
has served two tours in Iraq, in 2005-06 and 1990-91, and in Afghanistan in 2002-03.
Quote from the actual citation naming 1st Sergeant William C. Harlan as 2008 Army Times Soldier of the Year:
's enthusiasm for his
job is evident to all as he
leads from the front.
A true American hero who is essential to the continued success of our overall military operations stateside and overseas.
We are proud to recognize First Sergeant William C. Harlan, as the 2008 Army Times Soldier of the Year."
For other news stories about Sgt.
, visit: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/332836_grief24.html or the Web site archives for KTVU, CNN, or Fox News