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PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Master-at-Arms 1st Class Matthew Cuccaro was presented the Purple Heart by Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, during a ceremony on Ford Island July 10.
While serving as an Individual Augmentee (IA) with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghanzi Province of Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, Cuccaro's vehicle was struck by a triple stacked anti-tank mine converted into an improvised explosive device causing him to suffer a traumatic brain injury and temporary paralysis of the right side of his body. In 2007 when he was in Ghanzi it was in the top ten areas for Afghanistan with over 300 IED strikes.
Cuccaro, from Meriden, Conn., and currently assigned to Coastal Riverine Group (CRG) 1, is in Hawaii participating in exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014.
"I'm grateful to still be here, still walking and able to serve," Cuccaro said. "I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and I am just lucky to survive."
Harris said he felt privileged to be able to award Cuccaro the Purple Heart.
"I'm deeply honored to have the opportunity to present a Purple Heart, one of our most significant awards," Harris said. "It's visual proof of the willingness to sacrifice for the wellbeing and defense of our country."
Injured in 2007, administrative delays resulted in the award being presented only now.
"Although he was not a part of our force when this happened, it's important for us to recognize him and important for our folks to see and appreciate what it means," CRG-1 Command Master Chief Michael Wentzel said of Cuccaro's award, which the squadron helped push through administratively.
"It's sobering," Cuccaro said. "I would trade that medal to have Tom back and the lieutenant who died afterwards.
"I'm glad the Admiral came down and gave me the award, Cuccaro added. "That was really cool."