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WASHINGTON — The family of a soldier who hanged himself after he was denied the combat infantryman badge, forced out of the Army and diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury has finally received the combat badge he earned in 2009.
“It was the first time the Army acknowledged me on a human level,” said former Spc. Jacob Andrews’ mother, Lauri Turner.
Col. Samuel Whitehurst and Lt. Col. Brian Beckno, the commanders of 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, pinned combat infantryman badges on Turner and Andrews’ infant son, Jake, in a ceremony at Fort Drum, N.Y. on Thursday. Turner also received a plaque commemorating Andrews’ combat service.
“It was a very genuine ceremony,” Turner said in an email. “I didn’t feel like they were just doing it to get me to go away. … Col. Whitehurst and Lt. Col. Beckno were very comforting.”
Andrews deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 and was involved in more than a dozen firefights, according to those who served with him. He suffered a TBI and started drinking heavily, getting in trouble for numerous alcohol-related incidents and arguments with superiors. He was discharged in September 2010 for misconduct and later was diagnosed with PTSD.
In April 2011, he hanged himself in the woods near his childhood home, leaving behind his parents and his then-pregnant girlfriend, Ashley Mercante.
Mercante gave birth to Jake, on Oct. 31, 2011.
Lt. Col. Andrew DeKever, who served in the same battalion as Andrews but never met him, read Andrews’ story in Stars and Stripes. He, like Turner, felt the young soldier had been wronged and he started a campaign to get the family the combat infantryman badge Andrews should have received in 2010.
DeKever said the current brigade leadership was very receptive and agreed to a ceremony as soon as they read Andrews’ story.
Turner said she was grateful to receive the badge. She sat down with Whitehurst for about 15 minutes to talk about the challenges she still faces — including trying to get a Purple Heart for her son — and feels that the command is “trying to do better” than the previous command.