A Marine sergeant who was injured in Iraq and has since served as an inspiration to other wounded warriors has been named the 2013 “American Hero of the Year.”
Marine Sergeant Jason Simms was selected as a finalist for the award by the Williamson-Dickie Manufacturing Company, maker of Dickies brand work apparel, and the Army & Air Force Exchange Service for exemplifying “perseverance and selflessness throughout his career in the Marines, as well as in his home life.”
After surviving an insurgent attack in Iraq, in which his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device and gunfire, leaving him burned, shot three times and critically injured, Simms had to medically retire in April of 2008.
After enduring more than 20 painful surgeries, learning to walk again and still enduring hundreds of pieces of shrapnel from the waist down, Simms began to travel and share his story of loss and recovery with his military brothers and sisters.
“He took this challenge as an opportunity to overcome, fighting each day for his recovery and remembering the ultimate sacrifices of his fellow Marines,” the Dickies company announced. “Despite the pain he endures daily, Simms refuses to complain or harbor resentment – a trait his wife Alana Simms believes makes him a true hero.
Nominated by Alana for his courage and heroism, Sgt. Simms now works with the Navy’s Human Resource Service Center and the Wounded Warrior Program to help injured veterans like himself find employment after they return from service.
“Instead of letting this bring him down – like a Marine, he saw this as a challenge and wasn’t letting the enemy win,” Alana wrote. “He fought through the skin grafts, painful hours of therapy to walk and to make fists, and he fights every day to his recovery. Although his fight will never be over, my husband will never give up. He strives to do his best with everything. There is no challenge too great or scary for him.”
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Dickies and the Exchange awarded Simms $25,000 in recognition of being named American Hero of the Year as well as his outstanding service to his country.
“There are so many American heroes still fighting at home and abroad and I would not be where I am today without their continued sacrifices,” said Simms. “I am deeply honored for this special recognition from my wife and family, as well as Dickies, the Exchange and everyone that voted.”
Simms joined the Marines as soon as he could after graduating from high school in 1996. He served in Hawaii from 1997 to 2001, was discharged and reenlisted in 2003.
By the next year, Simms was serving in Delta Company, Third Platoon, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. He was deployed to Iraq and was searching for insurgents near Fallujah on July 1 with six others in a light armored vehicle when it was struck by the IED.
A shattering explosion and bright flash stunned Simms. Thirty seconds later he found himself slumped over the vehicle with his hands in flames.
He set his face and hair on fire as he removed his helmet. He was shot three times by insurgents as he jumped to the ground.
A week later, Simms woke up in a Texas hospital.
Today, Simms still struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and pain from shrapnel and other injuries, but Alana told the Philadelphia Inquirer her husband has maintained a positive attitude through it all.
“My husband deserves [the honor] more than anyone I can imagine,” said Alana, who married Jason in 2012 and is expecting the couple’s first child together next year. “Some people get a headache and post it on Facebook. But you would never know Jason is in pain. He will say, ‘I’m fine. Don’t worry about it.'”
Though unable to stand for long because of shrapnel in the bottom of his feet, Simms now connects other wounded warriors with federal employment.
“I find all kinds of jobs, just about anything you can think of – IT, welder, plumber, custodian and police officer,” he told the Inquirer.
Simms was chosen from among five finalists for the American Hero of the Year award after thousands voted for him at militaryhero.com. The four runners-up for the award each receive $1,000.
“For someone to go through so much and want to help others is a pretty compelling story,” said Matthew McCartin, chief marketing officer for Dickies in Fort Worth, Texas. “His attitude is why he was selected.”