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He was born to serve
Geneseo native
nearly lost his
leg in ambush
TODD MIZENER
tmizener/qconline.com

P

laying soldier as a boy in the
woods around Geneseo with
your friends is a long way
from dodging bullets and explosions during a deadly ambush in the
mountains of Afghanistan.
Tyler Hoogerwerf, now of Moline,
wanted to be a soldier for as long
as he could remember. So it was no
surprise to his parents when in 2005
their 17-year-old son asked them to
sign the consent form so he could
enlist after he graduated from Geneseo High School.
Hoogerwerf ’s parents expressed
their concerns about the active combat going on in the Middle East but
they never tried to talk him out of it.
Deep down they knew their son was
born to serve and his mom signed
the form.
A varsity soccer player in high
school, Hoogerwerf says he has
always been drawn to teamwork.
When he is asked about what it
takes to be a good solider his answer
comes without hesitation.
“Teamwork, being a team player.
You can’t be a Rambo,” Hoogerwerf
said.
He acknowledges that throughout
military history there have been
heroes like Congressional Medal
of Honor recipient U.S. Army Staff
Sgt. Robert James Miller. Miller
was posthumously honored for his
bravery while serving in 2008 in the
Kunar Province, Afghanistan.
Staff Sgt. Miller’s official Medal
of Honor citation reads in part:
“His extraordinary valor ultimately
saved the lives of seven members of
his own team and 15 Afghanistan
National Army soldiers. Staff Sgt.
Miller’s heroism and selflessness
above and beyond the call of duty,
and at the cost of his own life, are in
keeping with the highest traditions
of military service and reflect great
credit upon himself and the United
States Army.”
“He sacrificed himself for the
team,” Hoogerwerf said. “In the military services, it’s a team thing you’ve
got to be a team player. There’s no
‘I’ because a good soldier is one that
works well with others and is a team
player. Everyone knows it, especially
in Afghanistan where all we had
were the guys to your left or right.”
“There may be hundreds, maybe
thousands in our platoon but there
were only 38 of us on our base,” he
said.
After completing his basic training
stateside and his more specialized
training in Italy and Germany, Pfc.
Hoogerwerf, a member of the U.S.
Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, was
stationed in the mountains of northeastern Afghanistan in May 2007.
Forward operating base Naray was
located in the Nuristan province,
near the Pakistan border.
It is a remote location with
scenery not much different than
Colorado, he said. ‘It’s not much of a
desert scene that you would expect
in a Middle Eastern country because
where our camp was there was a lot
of greenery, forests, and woods.”
Hoogerwerf had been there a
month before his first battle with
the Taliban, a firefight on the road
to Gowardesh. During the battle,
multiple rocket-propelled grenades
(RPGs) shredded the lower half of
this left leg. As they tended to his
torn and bloody leg, trying to keep
him from going into shock, he was
convinced his leg would have to be
amputated.
His convoy was ambushed along
a canyon road while escorting a civil
affairs convoy to go pay local Afghan

Tyler Hoogerwerf, of Moline, poses alongside a display of his medals and ribbons, including his Purple
Heart. The framed uniform shirt is what the former paratrooper was wearing when he was severely injured
during an ambush, while serving in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade, in 2007.

workers to complete a bridge project
so the local population could cross
a river safely. His unit was escorting
a caravan of nine trucks with his
Humvee in the lead.
They knew from gathered intelligence to expect a roadside bomb at
some point on their route but didn’t
know where, when, or if it was even
true.
“There was a dogleg curve to the
right and then a really quick curve
to the left. And we stopped to let the
other trucks close the distance on us.
One of the last things I remember
was Sgt. Bennett saying it’s alright
let’s go. So once the foot hit the
gas to start moving there was this
loud explosion and what felt like a
sledgehammer to the chest, it just
rocked our truck and it took us a few
seconds to realize what happened, “
Hoogerwerf recalled.
“We didn’t know if we hit a roadside bomb... and then all of a sudden
two or three more explosives hit and
they’re all coming from the front
end, the side and the top, the roof
of the Humvee. And after the fourth
one, our gunner fell in the hatch
screaming that he was hit.”
To make matters worse their
Humvee caught fire and they had to
make the life and death decision to
burn to death or take their chances
getting shot as bullets rang off the
side of the vehicle.
“Burning alive is a guaranteed
death... we took the chance of
getting out. So once I opened up my
door to get out an RPG hit to my
right and shrapnel peppered up my
entire right leg from ankle to thigh,
but I didn’t feel anything because my
adrenaline was rushing.”
The explosion threw the 19-yearold paratrooper backward and now
he had to try again to push open the
300-plus pound plus door to escape
the burning Humvee.
“I pushed it back open, leaned out,

and another rocket hit but this one
blew my entire shin off and all the
muscle that is included in lifting up
your foot to walk around was gone.”
Severely wounded he and his team
retreated to another Humvee which
wasn’t as badly damaged and a
fellow soldier performed medical aid
to his injuries.
Apache helicopters arrived to
rescue Hoogerwerf and his team
even as the battle continued. Finally,
soldiers found daylight in the chaos
to escape and he later woke up in a
trauma center in Afghanistan.
“I woke up a day later.”
Despite his injuries, he considers
himself lucky. Their team leader,
Army Spc. Jacob “Jake” M. Lowell, of
New Lenox, and an Afghan interpreter were killed during the battle.
The gunner who was wounded lost
the lower half of his leg.
In a 2011 interview with the
Dispatch-Argus he talked about
Lowell’s heroics. “‘He wouldn’t stop
firing his weapon,” Hoogerwerf recalled. “They even hit him a couple
of times, and he would not quit. He
fell down. He got up. And he kept
firing.”’
Hoogerwerf ’s injury forced him
out of the military. The doctors
saved his leg with nine surgeries and
rehabilitation. But when he looks
back on his service he has mixed
feelings, but no regrets.
“In a way, I feel kind of upset
about it simply because I feel like I
was all preparing for it from childhood to adulthood and my service
was cut short. Because 19 months is
short, I signed up to do four years, I
only did 19 months,” said Hoogerwerf.
“Most of it was training. So it feels
like I didn’t get to go out and do
what I’ve always wanted to do - fight
terrorism and try to eliminate it. I
am kind of bittersweet about it. I’m
glad to be out, happy I did what I

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Geneseo native Tyler Hoogerwerf
poses for a photo while serving
in Afghanistan with the U.S.
Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade,
in 2007.

did, but on the other hand, I feel like
I got cut short a little bit. You know,
I would have loved to finish out the
tour with the guys I trained with.”
Upon his return home and recovery from his wounds, his deep sense
of duty, camaraderie, and teamwork
was channeled into becoming a
police officer.
Hoogerwerf graduated from
Western Illinois University with a
degree in law enforcement in 2011.
He worked for the Moline Police
Department for seven and a half
years before recently starting a new
job with the Illinois State Police.
“I just want to do a job that allows
me to help or assist people in need.
But not only that, (a job where you)
still have to depend on others. And
they have to depend on you.”

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