Roan Mtn. man receives bronze medal for service in Iraq

By Lesley Jenkins
Star Staff

   A Roan Mountain couple's son was awarded the third highest medal to a U.S. Army soldier on Monday for his heroism in Iraq.
   Staff Sergeant Kevin L. Houser, of the First Platoon, Bull Troop, First Squadron, Second Armored Calvary Regiment, is the son of Pat and Earl Hendry, 139 Tiger Creek Rd., Roan Mountain. SSG Houser was cited for bravery and combat leadership in Iraq for the past year.
   Two other soldiers in his squadron were awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the third highest medal to the Congressional Medal of Honor. A ceremony was held on March 8, one day after Houser's 32nd birthday to award the medals to soldiers.
   A release from Houser's Army command states the reasons for his decoration. "SSG Houser's skill, dedication and self sacrifice has been evident throughout his service ... As a Senior Scout, he has led the Platoon in over 200 combat missions. In addition, SSG Houser has led the entry team in over 40 different raids, while apprehending over 50 suspected criminals and confiscating countless numbers of arms and contraband while sustaining no loss of life.
   "During Operation Longstreet, while leading the platoon into the zone, the convoy came under grenade attack. His skillful manuevering managed to navigate the platoon through enemy fire and suppress the targets with no damage to the men, vehicles, or equipment.
   "During the same operation, SSG Houser's section responded to an attempted murder, during which he directed a dismount team towards the enemy. While taking heavy fire, he conducted a flanking manuever to draw fire away from the support by fire position he had skillfully emplaced, successfully using terrain and obstacles to his advantage. With the enemy's attention focused on himself, he ordered his support by fire element to suppress the suspect, which they were able to do. SSG Houser's quick, calm thinking and bravery in the face of enemy fire eliminated the threat while preventing any friendly casualties.
   "On July 1, 2003, the platoon observed a convoy hit by an IED (Roadside Bomb) Attack. SSG Houser quickly led a dismount team, making their way through a volatile crowd and successfully secured the scene ... SSG Houser personally administered first aid to a soldier with critical arm and chest wounds who was going into shock. His knowledge of first aid allowed the soldier to survive long enough to make it to further treatment.
   "SSG Houser's service as a Section Sergeant has been exemplary throughout the deployment. His knowledge, situational understanding, determination, and bravery have been critical to the successful completion of every mission."
   When Houser's mother, Pat Hendry, learned of the award and asked him why he received it, Houser said, "It was just another day on the job, mother."
   He doesn't brag about any of his accomplishments. In fact, the Hendry's didn't know any details about what their son does each day.
   Since he has Internet access, Houser communicates with his parents and his wife and kids on an almost daily basis by email and Instant Messaging.
   He casually mentioned the award to them on Sunday night. Pat suspects he probably wouldn't have told them but he knew that the media would be notified and he didn't want them to find out from anyone else.
   "I am so proud of that little boy. I talk to him (through IM) every few days. I was thrilled to death. Only three, out of 1,000 soldiers, in his squadron received the medal. He never tells me any of that stuff. I was really shocked when I read what he did to deserve the award," Pat Hendry said.
   Earl Hendry hails from an extensive line of military relatives and knows the importance of the medal. "It is a major medal for heroism. Most people get these types of medals posthumuously. I am just tickled to death. It is the highest award we have ever had in our family."
   Earl Hendry is an Army veteran of the Korean conflict in Germany and past president of the Elizabethton Rotary Club.
   Houser first saw combat in Operation Desert Storm and has been deployed to several Asian and African countries since Sept. 11, 2001.
   While in Operation Desert Storm, he only talked to his mother once by ham radio. A man communicated from Virginia by ham radio with Houser and asked if anyone would like to call their parents. Pat answered the phone at 2 a.m. with a man on the other line who asked if she had a son named Kevin Houser. She said the phone call terrified her at first, but once Houser came across the line, she knew everything was o.k. Ten years later they can now communicate by the Internet and she has talked to him on the phone a few times.
   He calls his wife, Rachel, once a week and communicates with her and their four kids by email and IM.
   Even though major combat has been declared in Iraq, Pat Hendry still gets terrified when she hears of a soldier dying. "What scares me is when I hear of anybody being killed. My heart still sinks," she said. Usually he contacts her just to say he is alright when something happens.
   He and his wife are stationed in Fort Polk, Louisiana. They have four children, Luke, 14; Kailah, 12; Keegan, 2, and Kera, 6 months. Houser has not met his youngest daughter Kera who was born in October 2003, but he will be able when his duty is finished. He is expected to return home around the first of April. After a week of work when his unit returns to Fort Polk, Houser will be able to take a leave of absence and visit with his family after spending a full year in Iraq.
   Houser will retire from the military in 2010.