By David Brown, 1LT, Texas State Guard
LUBBOCK, Texas - On August 20th, a Lubbock-based officer in the Texas State Guard, 1st Lt. Christopher Beck, made history as the first State Guard service member to be awarded the Texas Purple Heart: an honor given for injuries sustained by enemy action while on military duty. Though Texas State Guard soldiers typically don’t encounter ‘enemy action’ as one would find on a battlefield, the award given this day would help ‘make right’ the lack of acknowledgment for an act of military heroism years ago.
It was August 27th, 2005, 5:15 in the morning, Iraq time. It was a moment Beck will remember for the rest of his life.
The floodlights at the U.S. Convoy Support Center (CSC) Scania, some 90 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq had been on for about 15 minutes when the sound of incoming mortar fire broke the early morning quiet.
Beck (then a member of the Texas Army National Guard on a tour of duty in Iraq) and his crew had been on patrol most of that morning. “We left at 2100 the night before. There were a few pop shots, but the mission had been pretty uneventful. We’d sent the drivers and the gunners to early chow,” Beck recalls.
The only warning was an instantly recognizable sound, so close you could hear the dreaded thump of the shell exiting the tube. The first of 11 mortars targeting the CSC was aimed directly at the convoy. There was hardly enough time to react before “the first one exploded– it hit about 10 feet from us,” Beck says.
Of the six soldiers nearby, five took shrapnel. The only soldier uninjured lay beneath Beck, who had thrown himself on top of a gunner to protect him.
“After we got hit, I helped other wounded soldiers get to the aid station and get treatment. I grabbed our medic and we went back out with a stretcher…”
“It was like something out of a movie,” Beck adds. “I took some shrapnel - split my head open, they called it a contusion. My right shoulder was swollen and purple. Being a grunt they tell us pain is only weakness leaving the body…” but that hardly lessened the pain’s intensity.
That was 17 years ago.
“It’s important for us to acknowledge what these soldiers give up, their sacrifices for others,” said Maj. General Anthony Woods, Commanding General of the Texas State Guard. Woods made his comments at the awards ceremony in Lubbock on August 20th, 2022. While there, Woods also acknowledged the sacrifices made by the families of service members who support the soldiers. Beck and his wife, Kerry, live in Lubbock where Beck works as an architect at WCA Design Studio, LLC.
Since the creation of the Texas Purple Heart by the State Legislature in 2005, only 20 people had been awarded the Texas Purple Heart before this year, most for their service in the Army or the Texas Army National Guard. Beck, the 21st recipient, is the first Texas State Guard member to receive the heart-shaped medal with that Lone Star at the center.
“History was made today,” Woods said. The Texas Purple Heart is the third highest military decoration that can be awarded by the Texas Military Department.
“It really is an honor to be one of a select few, and as the first State Guard member to receive the Texas Purple Heart…well, it kinda leaves me speechless,” Beck says.
The Midland native served on ‘both sides’ of 9/11: after 4 years of active duty in the U.S. Army assigned to the 4th Infantry Division based at Fort Hood, Beck joined the Texas Army National Guard in 2003, serving 6 years. It was during this time that Beck was deployed to Iraq, and was injured by enemy action. But at that time, there was an issue of eligibility for Purple Heart recognition, due to Beck’s status as a reservist.
The awarding of the Texas Purple Heart is an overdue acknowledgment of Beck’s sacrifice, and an honor he hopes will be extended to other Texas soldiers injured by enemy action who may not have received full recognition.
“I’ve been doing some research, trying to pull numbers, get names of (injured) soldiers,” Beck says, adding “I’m going to try to work with state representatives to see if we can’t get others recognized for the sacrifices they made, too.”
After Beck left the National Guard in order to finish his Bachelor's and Master's degree in Architecture at Texas Tech, he wasn’t fully done with military service. In 2017, he joined the ranks of the Texas State Guard, one of the three branches of the Texas Military Department, responding to emergencies within the state. He is a 1st Lt. in the 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade. His twin brother, Cpl. Robert Beck also serves in the Texas State Guard.
Although many in the Texas State Guard are veterans, prior federal military experience is not a requirement. State Guard members must meet military physical and health standards, undertake ongoing emergency response and leadership training, and demonstrate a commitment to serving their fellow Texans during emergencies or other times of need as requested by state and local officials, often on short notice.
“I’m not a hero - I know that General Woods called me that - but I was just doing my job,” Beck says. “We’re all soldiers, we train and we do our mission.”
More information about the Texas State Guard, including contacts for recruitment, can be found at the Texas Military Department website (tmd.texas.gov) under the State Guard tab.