During the Mid-Winter Conference on January 25th, the Department presented one of its prestigious VFW Eagle Awards to PAARNG SSG Joshua Hedetniemi, a two-tour veteran of service in Iraq. Joining SSG Hedetniemi was PAANG BG Gregg Perez. While VFW membership is not required to be nominated by the PA Adjutant General for this award, SSG Hedetniemi is serving as Sr. Vice Commander at VFW Post 676 in North Penn.
He currently serves a Human Resource Specialist with the Higher Headquarters Company for the 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team. He has served with exceptional dedication in Pennsylvania’s 28th Infantry Division for nearly 16 years.
Then Private Hedetniemi volunteered to deploy to Iraq in June 2004 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom III, and deployed with Co A, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, as a member of Task Force Dragoon. He served as a mounted machine gunner in the Company’s 2nd Platoon, and successfully completed more than 340 combat missions in the Northern Suni Triangle area of operations near Bayji, Iraq.
On 9 June 2005, then Specialist Hedetniemi and his convoy was attacked by a suicide vehicle-born explosive device that detonated and destroyed the lead vehicle in the patrol. Without regard to his personal safety, the Specialist dismounted his own Humvee and entered the destroyed, burning vehicle and pulled out four members of his platoon who were trapped inside while ammunition cooked off inside the flames and smoke. He received the Bronze Star with Valor for his bravery.
Six members of his squad were killed in complex ambushes between 6 August and 9 August rendering the squad and platoon combat ineffective. The platoon never lost heart or gave up on the mission, but instead reorganized and were able to get back on mission cycle and complete the reminder of the deployment with honor.
He returned home to Pennsylvania in February of 2006. In early 2007, he was selected for promotion to Sergeant and assigned as a Recruiting and Retention NCO for the Regiment. During his time in the Recruiting Command, the sergeant was selected as the NCO of the Quarter for South Eastern Pennsylvania and served as a primary instructor for the Recruit Sustainment Program in Philadelphia.
In light of his demonstrated qualities and abilities, he was selected and promoted to Staff Sergeant in April of 2008.
In September of 2008, his Regiment was once again chosen to deploy to Iraq. He again volunteered to deploy and resigned from his non-deployable job as a Recruiting NCO in order to go with his old unit, Co A, the 1-111th Infantry Regiment.
The sergeant served as a Platoon Sergeant and Personal Security Detail, the NCO in charge. During this deployment, his platoon participated in Counter Insurgency and Information Operations focused on capturing High Value Targets.
While out in sector on March 22nd 2008, his patrol came upon an Army Reserve Military Police unit that had just moments before come under attack from insurgents using anti-armor grenades. While many soldiers were injured, one in particular had suffered extremely critical head trauma.
Staff Sergeant Hedetniemi, along with his medic, wasted no time in loading the wounded soldier into his Stryker vehicle and rendered life-sustaining first aid. SSG Hedetniemi held the wounded’s hand and prayed with the soldier while transporting the soldier to the Level 3 aide station.
His efforts ensured the soldier remained alive until the best possible medical care could be given to him, affording him every opportunity to live. When the soldier eventually succumbed to his injuries and passed away, the Staff Sergeant ensured that his entire platoon was present at the soldier’s memorial service, and volunteered to cover the Reserve unit’s patrol schedule in addition to his own patrol schedule to afford the MP’s time to grieve and regroup.
After redeploying to Pennsylvania in January of 2010, Staff Sergeant Hedetniemi was again reassigned to the Recruiting and Retention Battalion where he was later chosen as the NCO of the Year for Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Drawing on his extensive combat experience and devotion to the community and the Commonwealth, he generated the highest number of recruit enlistments among his peers. He was additionally selected as the “Service Member of the Year-Army*’ by the Adjutant General, and was honored at the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
From 2012 until 2016, he was reassigned and selected to serve as unit Supply NCO for Headquarters Company of the 1-111th Infantry Regiment. During this time, SSG Hedetniemi oversaw multiple change of command property inventories, IG inspections of arms and equipment, and helped implement and supervise the logistics training for all Battalion supply sergeants. He additionally served as the Battalion S-4 NCO during this period, assuming greater levels of responsibility above his pay grade. At the completion of his assignment in logistics, he directly supervised and accounted for over $70 million dollars in equipment and weapons with no reported losses.
In 2013, during his time in Logistics, in a strange sequence of events, SSG “Head-et-knee-me” worked with FBI investigators to charge and convict 2 known Iraqi terrorists in Bowling Green, Kentucky. As fate would have it, these terrorists were the same men who 8 years prior, had attacked and killed members of his platoon in Iraq in 2005. It was the first time in American history that known terrorists were caught and captured on American soil and charged for new terrorism crimes completely separate from their previous war crimes.
He was selected to represent the Pennsylvania Army National Guard with multiple press appearances; including the Today Show on NBC.
In 2016, SSG Hedetniemi requested a transfer into the Adjutant General’s Corps to serve as a Human Resources Sergeant for the HQ, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Horsham. While assigned to the Brigade S-1/Personnel shop, he was selected for and completed the Senior Human Resources Management Qualification Course.
This course is designed for senior field grade officers in the ranks of Major and Lt. Colonel to lead and manage personnel sections at the Brigade, Division, and Joint Force Head Quarters level. He completed the course as the most junior-ranking member of his class, one of only two enlisted soldiers accepted.
He lives in Oreland, Montgomery County, with his wife Martina. The Staff Sergeant is completing his undergraduate degree in Sociology, and will begin his Master’s program in Human Resources Management.
When asked about the many awards and decorations he has received, this humble soldier simply stated, “When it comes to awards, I do not place much emphasis on them. For my awards, you can just tell people that I brought all my men back home from my last Iraq tour; that in my opinion is my best award.
He has received:
• Meritorious Unit Citation with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
• Bronze Star Medal for Valor (under fire)
• Army Commendation Medal for Valor (under fire)
• Army Commendation Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters
• Army Achievement Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters
• Combat Infantryman Badge
• Global War On Terror Expeditionary Medal
• Iraq Campaign Medal with 2 Campaign Stars
• Overseas Service Ribbon
• Army Good Conduct Medal, 5th Award
- And many more federal and state decorations.
While VFW membership is not required to receive this award, State HQ thanks Hedetniemi for his support of the Pennsylvania VFW as a member of North Penn Post 676.