Branch: Army ** Served In: Iraqi Freedom
Gordon “Gordy” Ewell joined the Utah National Guard after he graduated from Emory County High School in 1985. He began his military career as a radio telegraph operator for the 1457th Engineering Battalion, but soon decided to change course and become a Combat Engineer and demolition specialist.
Ewell was mobilized as part of the 115th Engineering Group as one of 40 individuals chosen to be part of the first Explosive Hazard Coordination Cell in Iraq. As a combat engineer, Ewell served in the route clearance section of the team, and was sent to units around Iraq to teach them how to hunt for, find, and – in many cases – detonate IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) before they could hurt others. In December 2005, only a couple of weeks after Ewell arrived in Iraq, he received his marching orders. The outgoing commander of Multi-National Corps Iraq head-butted Ewell and told him to “take care of” his soldiers. Ewell said that directive was what kept him going – in his words, “maybe longer than I should have.”
During his year in Iraq, Ewell went on 59 combat missions. He calls this stint his “year of living in the limelight,” a play on words evoking the green-tinged view through a soldier’s night vision goggles. He led dozens of night missions, driving five miles per hour down some of the most dangerous roadways in Iraq, looking for disguised IEDs. His convoy usually contained only four or five vehicles, with him in a Buffalo or a RG-31 vehicle lit up like a Christmas tree to shed light on potential hazards. Ewell noted that it was not unusual for his team to find 15-18 bombs every night, and to engage with the enemy 4-5 times per night. One night, he recalled, his team found 24 IEDs.
While deployed, Ewell started writing a manual for route clearance, for which he received approval from the Center for Army Lessons Learned. The Army would eventually adopt Ewell’s writings as the first route clearance handbook. Ewell received the Bronze Star for his work as part of the first Mobile Observation Team, for writing the first route clearance handbook, and for continuing to perform his route clearance duties while engaged with the enemy.
Ewell’s vehicle was hit by IEDs six times over the course of his deployment, including one which blew out his impacted wisdom teeth. After this explosion, Ewell was scheduled to catch a helicopter to another base to begin training another team, so he packed his mouth with gauze and caught the helicopter, only seeking medical and dental attention when he arrived at his destination. His exposure to repeated IED blasts has left him with a number of physical impairments. In addition to the violent loss of his wisdom teeth, Ewell suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI), loss of hearing, broken vertebrae in his neck, damage to his back, and physical loss of his right eye. He also suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Despite the injuries he has suffered, Ewell continues to serve with distinction in the Blue Star Riders organization, visiting wounded warriors in Utah and around the country, offering them comfort during their hospitalizations.