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Spc. Jeremy Church, right, shakes the hand of Col. Daniel Puhl, Fort McCoy deputy commander for mobilization, upon the 724th Transportation Company’s return to Wisconsin from Iraq.(Chris Farley, U.S. Army)Spc. Jeremy Church

Unit: 724th Transportation Company

Medal: Silver Star

Earned: April 9, 2004, Baghdad, Iraq

Sgt. Lorenzo Nathan said he joined the Army to “show my mom that I could do something great with my life.”

And he did just that on May 15, 2004, by protecting the lives of two injured soldiers even after he himself was injured in a late-night ambush outside Baghdad. Nathan was awarded the Bronze Star with “V” for his actions.

Nathan, who joined the Army in 2002 at age 20, had been a gunner in Iraq for about 2½ months before the attack. He said that up until then, his unit had encountered a number of roadside bombs during their midnight patrols, but no direct attacks from insurgents.

“During our patrol, at one point, I had turned around to help guide my driver as he backed up, and when I turned back I saw two bright flashes,” he said. “I didn’t realize they were RPGs until I saw the hood of our Humvee on fire.”

The impact knocked his driver from the Humvee and sent shrapnel into another soldier’s face. Nathan’s tank commander escaped the vehicle and started firing at the insurgents.

After a third rocket-propelled grenade landed nearby, Nathan said, he grabbed his machine gun and scrambled back on top of the Humvee. When he tried to lift the gun, he realized that shrapnel had seriously damaged his left arm.

“It was to the point where I couldn’t use it,” he said. “But I had so much adrenaline pumping I didn’t feel anything. I lifted the gun with one arm and fired 325 rounds at the insurgents, and when it went black I reloaded it and started firing again.”

Nathan said he still isn’t sure how he got the extra ammunition into the gun with just one arm; he credits his training with keeping him focused during the attack.

Nathan estimated that eight insurgents were involved in the ambush; Army officials think it was at least 17. Nathan and his tank commander kept the attackers at bay until reinforcements arrived several minutes later, who then evacuated the wounded soldiers from the area.

The driver and passenger both survived their wounds, and Nathan said that today his left arm is about 80 percent healed. He doesn’t expect he’ll ever be able to return to combat, but he said he is determined to stay in the active Army in some role.

“Before I went over, I really had a lot of love for what the Army stood for,” he said. “I don’t want to leave that. So if I can’t stay in the field, I’ll find something else in the Army to do.”

Currently he is stationed at Fort Hood in Texas, but he did find time to return home to San Diego and tell his service stories to his mother.

“She cried a lot, and she’s upset that I got hurt,” he said. “But both of my parents are proud. I told them before I left what could happen, and that I would put my life on the line for my fellow soldiers.”

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