Doug Lindley, Associated Press
Miguel, 11; Anthonee, 8; and Aaliyah, 4, are a source of strength for their dad, Miguel Dominic, who was seriously wounded in Iraq.

POCATELLO, Idaho — Miguel Dominic has spent much of the past 20 years as a soldier, and he believes in the strength that comes from knowing others are trusting him to defend their rights, their freedoms and even their lives.

But the source of strength this single father drew on most during those life-threatening moments while serving his country in Iraq, and today as he struggles to get healthy, is his three children.

"I know there is a point where things got low," Dominic said. "When I have these guys, though, it's a different game. I need to do this for them."

What Dominic is doing, for his children, for himself, is getting treatment for two ailments he was recently diagnosed with that stem from his time serving in Iraq: a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dominic, a member of the Idaho National Guard, was stationed north of Kirkuk, Iraq, from late 2004 until November 2005.

But it's June 30, 2005, that most stands out in his mind.

That day his unit led a convoy to deliver items two hours away. Just a few minutes into the return trip, the convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device and Dominic, who was manning a fixed gun on a Humvee, was injured in the explosion.

"I know I went to grab my gun, but before I knew it happened, my head snapped back and hit the armor shield," he said. "The guys told me later that I just dropped into the car like a rag doll."

Dominic was unconscious for 45 minutes and had to be taken out by helicopter to receive medical treatment. He had three bruised ribs and some internal bleeding.

But the traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder were only diagnosed a few months ago. He qualified for a purple heart.

"This is the highest award I have gotten," he said.

The Purple Heart is given to soldiers who sustain injuries in battle that require medical attention. Many who get the medal receive it posthumously.

Sitting at Alameda Park earlier this month, watching his children play, Dominic struggled to verbalize his feelings about receiving the medal. He started one thought, then another, stopping each time to think about it again. Finally, slowly, he was able to put his thoughts into words.

"With that medal, I will always think of those who got it because they lost their lives. They made the ultimate sacrifice," Dominic said. "I am the lucky one because I came home and saw my kids again."

The oldest, Miguel, is 11 years old. Anthonee, intentionally spelled that way so no one would call him Tony, is 8. And their baby sister, Aaliyah, named for the R&B singer who died in 2001, is 4 years old.

"She was born on April Fool's Day," said Dominic with a broad grin.

As the kids continued to play in the park, Dominic spoke of how he pushed aside the idea that he might suffer some effects from his injury and time in Iraq when he returned home late in 2005.

"I didn't want to acknowledge any of that stuff," he said. "I knew there were things there, but I kind of denied it."

Instead, Dominic jumped into a full-time position with the Idaho National Guard, working out of the armory in Pocatello.

His title dubbed him a recruiter, but his job was more along the lines of public affairs as anything else, he said.

Although he has been on leave since January to focus on recovering from and getting treatment for his TBI and PTSD, many still recognize Dominic as the local soldier who used to drive the red, white and blue Humvee around town and in parades.

Dominic is a native New Yorker who grew up in the Bronx. He joined the U.S. Army straight out of high school in 1988.

During his three years in the Army, he met his ex-wife, an Idahoan, and eventually moved to Pocatello when his enlistment ended.

A couple of years later, he decided he still wanted to serve but didn't want the full-time commitment. So, he joined the Idaho National Guard.

He goes to Veterans Hospital in Salt Lake City for weekly treatments for both ailments. During the two years he worked fulltime for the Idaho National Guard in Pocatello after returning from Iraq in 2005, Dominic said there were incidents, small things, that would make him wonder if something was wrong.

"I would leave my keys in the front door of the Armory," he said, "or I would leave the office and forget things I needed. It wasn't like me."

Dominic said he finally expressed some of those concerns to Melissa Hartman, Bannock County veteran's advocate. It was Hartman who talked him into seeking help.

"Melissa has really been there for me," Dominic said. "She convinced me to get checked out, that I needed to take care of myself."