'She was unbelievably level-headed through it all'
June 14, 2005
Staff Sgt. Serena Maren Di Virgilio.Staff Sgt. Serena Maren Di Virgilio
Unit: 230th Military Police Company
Medal: Bronze Star with "V"
Earned: April 8, 2003, near Baghdad, Iraq
It was only supposed to be a mission to deliver a tire to an MP patrol that had come under heavy fire along Alternate Supply Route Sword near Baghdad.
But Staff Sgt. Serena Maren Di Virgilio’s convoy drove right into an ambush.
Their three-truck convoy had been hit with a rocket- propelled grenade.
“I heard myself screaming, but I couldn’t hear anything else,” Di Virgilio said as she looked away, as if watching a scene from the movie of her life. “Everything was black, and there was smoke everywhere. I’ll never forget that smell.”
And even though the medic from the Headquarters, 230th Military Police Company, was covered with shrapnel wounds, she took care of every soldier in her unit before caring for herself.
She focused much of her attention on the gunner of her truck, Spc. Jonathan Kephart, 21, who had shrapnel lodged in his brain. She stabilized Kephart up until the last minute before placing him in a medical evacuation helicopter.
“I feel a lot of guilt for the fact that he died,” Di Virgilio said with a thick voice, as tears filled her light blue eyes.
This is one of the first times she has spoken of the ambush, which took place on April 8, 2003.
Di Virgilio said she was just doing her job. Others call her a hero.
Though at first the 31-year-old from Colorado said her memory of the ambush was fuzzy, the details came flooding back as she relived the day in her mind.
The Iraqis hit the convoy with everything they had once the troops hit the end of one stretch of road.
A string of bombs on the road blocked the troops from going any further, forcing them to turn around and head back into ambush. That’s when Di Virgilio’s truck was rocked by the RPG.
“Kephart was hit. I saw through the smoke, behind the team, that Kephart had fallen back against the cooler, his legs up by the radio. I could only see him from the waist up and then just his legs. He was staring right at me.”
Kephart’s fading eyes locked on Di Virgilio as the medic in her took over. She said the hundreds of Iraqis who had lined up behind berms along either side of the road disappeared. She could no longer hear the whiz of bullets flying by. The explosions no longer mattered. All that mattered was keeping Kephart alive.
While she worked, Iraqis drove alongside the Army trucks to shoot point blank at the troops.
Slowly, the disabled Army trucks made it out of the kill zone.
“She did the medic thing, but she was unbelievably level-headed through it all,” said Master Sgt. Edwin Rossman, who was the fourth platoon sergeant during the ambush. “She went beyond the work of a medic, helping with weapons and ammo at the start of the ambush.”
Di Virgilio — who is the single mother of 10-year-old Taylor Potts — said the real heroes are Sgt. Amy Kovac, who drove the truck out of the ambush, or Staff Sgt. Stephen Mandernach, who took over duties as gunner once Kephart was down.
But it was Di Virgilio who received the Bronze Star with “V” device. She also has earned a Purple Heart and a Combat Medic Badge.
And the horror of that day hasn’t changed Di Virgilio’s view of the Army: Before leaving Iraq, she re-enlisted.