Fargo veteran gets honored with Purple HeartFARGO — Saturday was a day three years in the making for Iraq War veteran Rusty Ouart and his wife, Marilyn.
By: Jessica Ballou, Forum Communications Co., The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Saturday was a day three years in the making for Iraq War veteran Rusty Ouart and his wife, Marilyn.
Three years after suffering a traumatic brain injury from a mortar attack in 2008 while on duty, Ouart finally got recognition for his service by being awarded a Purple Heart at a ceremony Saturday at the Armed Forces Reserve Center here.
A former firefighter, Ouart enlisted in the National Guard in 2006, and he had served in the Navy many years prior.
The award ceremony came so long after his injury because of many misdiagnoses by members of the medical and military fields. Ouart was told the debilitating headaches, vertigo, short-term memory loss and constant fatigue were all just in his head.
That’s where Dr. Paul Harch came into the picture.
He is an authority on the use of hyperbaric therapy for the treatment of brain injuries, and he flew in from Louisiana with his wife and son. Because of a flight cancellation, they arrived right before the ceremony started.
“We immediately went to the scheduling book to see what we had to cancel,” he said, before taking a brief pause to collect his thoughts and fight back tears. “There was no way we were going to miss this.”
He told the story of a patient who suffered from decompression sickness but was continually misdiagnosed and ignored by doctors, family members and friends. After the patient was correctly diagnosed, he made a full recovery.
He brought forth a startling statistic that said there are more suicide deaths in the military than combat deaths.
Some of those suicides could have been prevented if the soldiers had had a stronger support system of friends and family, like the patient in the story or like Ouart.
It is because of a strong support system filled with friends, family and himself that Ouart kept going when the odds were stacked against him.
“Rusty had Rusty,” Harch said. “Rusty is tough. Rusty knew something was wrong with him and he wasn’t giving up on himself.”
There were 16 pieces of shrapnel lodged in Ouart’s arm from the mortar explosion, and Harch said the treatment was miraculous.
Nearly every seat was filled in the auditorium, and people even filed along three of the walls of the room just to watch the ceremony unfold.
Many members of the military and government helped to fill the seats in the room.
Ouart and his wife talked about how much this process and fight has meant to them, to see all of the support in the community.
“I’m not much of a speaker,” Ouart said. “I’m strucken to say the least…thank you all very much for your kindness.”
“Everybody just kept pulling together,” Marilyn added about making it through this difficult time.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D., all of whom have helped Ouart navigate this difficult process, each spoke about how honored they were to be at the ceremony.
Berg was reminded a line from the film “It’s a Wonderful Life” when he thought of Ouart.
“Rusty, today in Fargo, N.D., you are the richest man in town,” he said, as the crowd applauded. “This medal is well deserved.”
Shelley Kline, on behalf of Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., read a letter written by the senator, who was unable to attend.
“It’s been a long journey,” she read, “but your perseverance has brought us to today’s event.”
Brig. Gen. Alan Dohrmann, the N.D. National Guard’s deputy adjutant general, then presented Ouart with the Purple Heart, a military award given to service members who were injured or killed in combat.
The room was absolutely silent apart from the shutter clicks from cameras all over the room when Ouart was finally receiving the award.
The service was going to end with a song called “Wounded Soldier” Ouart co-wrote with Terrance Alan, an award-winning singer and songwriter, but there were technical difficulties.
Scott Hennen, local radio host and family friend of the Ouarts, said that Toby Keith expressed interest in using the song, and there is the possibility of it being used on a movie soundtrack.
As people filed out of the auditorium before the reception and open house, some were eager to shake hands with the Ouarts and say how proud they were, even though it was a bittersweet day.
Jessica Ballou is a reporter
at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.