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DEA hero in War on Drugs honored by Secretary of Defense

By David Amoruso

When President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in the summer of 1971, many regarded it as a hyperbole for increasing the size and presence of federal drug control agencies. For many years that’s what it was. But with the Mexican drug cartels killing federal agents and the fight against drug farmers in Afghanistan flaring up the war on drugs has become exactly what it claims to be.

A war.

Like in any war, this one, too, has plenty of heroes. This week, the Defense Department honored one of them.

DEA Special Agent Joseph Piersante (right) became the first-ever member of the DEA to receive the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom. Piersante was struck by enemy gun fire while on a counter-terrorism and narcotics mission in Afghanistan in 2011.

The Defense of Freedom Medal is the civilian equivalent of the military's Purple Heart. The first recipients honored were those Defense Department civilians injured or killed as a result of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on 9/11.

According to a press release by the DEA, “Piersante’s recovery from this life-threatening event has been nothing short of miraculous.  Through hard work and determination, as well as incredible doctors, EMTs, team members, therapists, trainers, family, and friends along the way, he has returned to his Special Agent duties at DEA FAST headquarters in Virginia. In addition, Piersante has inspired many in and out of law enforcement, participating in speaking engagements, motivational opportunities, and training in areas such as overcoming adversity, never giving up, and putting your life on the line for the good of our great nation. His inspirational story will continue forever to be told not just by him, but by many in and out of DEA.”

Since the incident, Special Agent Piersante has received numerous awards from a variety of organizations, including the Federal Congressional Badge of Bravery from the United States Congress, and from his alma mater, Adrian College in Michigan, where he played football.

Below is an ABC News report on the DEA FAST team’s operations in Afghanistan. As the reporter points out, “Despite what it looks like, this is not a U.S. military operation. This is the DEA.”

The Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom (right) itself consists of a golden circle framing a bald eagle holding a shield which exemplifies the principles of freedom and the defense of those freedoms upon which our nation is founded. The reverse of the medal is inscribed with "On Behalf of a Grateful Nation" with a space for the recipient's name to be inscribed. The laurel wreath represents honor and high achievement. The ribbon is the red, white and blue. The red stripes commemorate valor and sacrifice. The wide blue stripe represents strength. The white stripes symbolize liberty as represented in our national flag. The number of red stripes represents the four terrorist attacks using hijacked airplanes and the single blue stripe represents the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

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