A critically injured soldier with roots in Southeast Alaska was awarded a Purple Heart by the U.S. Army, family members announced this week.
Gen. Richard Cody, vice chief of staff for the Army, presented 26-year-old Army Spec. Latseen Benson with the Purple Heart, a military medal bestowed on soldiers hurt or killed during combat, on Dec. 20 in a chapel ceremony at Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Benson, an Anchorage native with many Tlingit relatives in Southeast Alaska, is recovering at the military hospital from injuries he received on Nov. 13 from a roadside bomb in Tikrit, Iraq. The explosion took part of both his legs.
"He's doing very well," said his aunt, Sylvia Carlsson of Anchorage, on Tuesday.
"Eventually (Latseen) is going to come home because Alaska is his home," Carlsson said.
Benson is spending time visiting other injured soldiers at the military hospital. His wife, Jessica, and his mother and stepfather are with him, Carlsson said.
Benson has become adept in his wheelchair and now "it is hard for people to keep up with him," she said.
"We are blessed because he was able to return to us," said his mother, Diane Benson, in a prepared statement released Sunday. Benson, once a Green Party gubernatorial candidate, was born and raised in Ketchikan but now lives in Anchorage, where she raised her son.
According to family members, Latseen Benson's injuries, which occurred during his second tour in Iraq, will not allow him to return to his previous Army service.
Diane Benson, as well as some of his other supporters in Alaska, had expressed pain and outrage that Latseen Benson was required to return to Iraq after his first tour under the military's "stop-loss" policy. The policy forces soldiers to return to duty or extend their tours to deal with military personnel shortages.
"My son is a brave and dedicated soldier, and he served his country with honor," Diane Benson said.
Many Tlingits in Southeast Alaska have been raising funds to assist the Benson family. One fundraiser held at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall in Juneau netted about $4,000, according to Ashli Hobbs, an assistant with the Tlingit and Haida Central Council.
Elizabeth Bluemink at firstname.lastname@example.org.