MITCHELL, S.D. (KELO) — A South Dakota Veteran was awarded the Purple Heart today, almost a dozen years after he was injured.

Marcus Rothlisberger was serving in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom when his position guarding a helicopter landing zone was rocked by mortar fire.

“You can hear it, you can hear the whistle, so your adrenaline is already through the roof, and you are just waiting for impact,” he said.

Rothlisberger says after the blast, training kicks in. He came to, reported in, and thought he was fine. He would later discover he had suffered a traumatic brain injury or TBI. Often, traumatic brain injuries aren’t evident right away, the PTSD, depression, and other symptoms come later.

“Bringing awareness TBI, concussions, things like that because those are the things that a lot of guys bring back, and that goes untreated, and ultimately that’s the silent killer, is what I call it. Because if you don’t treat it, it just gets worse for people, and eventually, they are gone, and you have to tell the story of them instead of them being there to tell it,” said Rothlisberger.

Congressman Dusty Johnson and his staff took on the mission to make sure Rothlisberger got the Purple Heart.

“For 18 months, we’ve been working with Marcus so we could have this day happen where he received the Purple Heart that he earned in defense of this country,” said Johnson. “When a mortar round hit his watch tower and caused him injuries, that was a tough day for Marcus, and there have been a lot of tough days since, and that’s why we give out the Purple Heart as an acknowledgment of the fact that all too often this service comes with sacrifice.”

Rothlisberger dedicates his award to the six people in his unit who did not make it back home and to those who survived Afghanistan only to find challenges when they returned.

“To see everybody here supporting me and to be here for me meant a lot,” said Rothlisberger.

More than 450,000 U.S. service members were diagnosed with a TBI from 2000 to 2021, according to the CDC.