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Staff Sgt. John Lewis.(Rick Emert, Stars and Stripes)Staff Sgt. John Lewis

Unit: 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment

Medal: Bronze Star with "V"

Earned: July 27, 2004, Baqouba, Iraq

On the morning of July 27, 2004, Staff Sgt. John Lewis talked to his future wife on the telephone, hearing her voice for the first time.

At about 5 p.m., he had to make a split-second decision in Baqouba, Iraq, that would save his life and the lives of more than 40 other soldiers from 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment.

While Lewis and his fellow soldiers were on heightened alert after a recent bus bombing, Lewis was pumped up about talking to Annabella, whom he had met on the Internet a few weeks earlier. They would marry after he returned from Iraq.

“It was a strange day, one very good thing and one very bad thing happening in the same day,” Lewis said.

Baqouba was a hotbed of insurgent activity, with improvised explosive devices and car bombs wreaking havoc nearly every day. But the mission of setting up a security point in heavy traffic was a familiar one for the unit’s soldiers.

On this mission, a platoon from 1-6 FA, including Lewis’ squad, was sent into Baqouba to provide security for two tractor-trailers that had been stopped by insurgents on a divided, four-lane road.

One of the trucks — carrying cement blocks to be used for security barricades — had already been burned by the insurgents.

“We set up a perimeter and blocked traffic through the circle, letting cars use a small area to turn around and head back the way they had come,” Lewis said.

For a few hours, the soldiers kept the area secure without incident.

As a way of staying alert as the hours slowly passed, Lewis and his gunner, Spc. Ryan Dehaan, would watch approaching vehicles and guess whether the drivers would turn around or be bold enough to try to ram the perimeter.

“This one little [Volkswagen] comes up, and Dehaan says, ‘That one’s going to turn around,’” Lewis said. “I said, ‘No, it’s not.’ The car was getting closer, and I could see the driver smiling like he was really, really happy. He was revving the engine, speeding up toward us.”

Lewis had discussed with his squad many times before that day how they would react to such a situation.

“Every time we went out, I would talk about the kind of threats we might face and what we would do if we encountered those threats,” Lewis said.

But that was just talk in the relative safety of Forward Operating Base Gabe.

Now, a Volkswagen weighted down with explosives was speeding toward their secured perimeter.

“I looked at [Dehaan and Sgt. William Stover, a team leader] and we all three knew that this was bad, this was not good at all,” Lewis said.

With the vehicle about 50 feet away, Lewis took out the driver with his M-16, aiming first for the head and working his way down the driver’s torso. Meanwhile, Dehaan fired several 7.62 mm rounds into the car.

The explosion was heard at FOB Gabe about a mile and a half away by 1st Lt. John Bechtold, the 1-6 FA adjutant.

A few of the 45 soldiers at the site had minor injuries from shrapnel, but all of them would live to fight another day.

Dehaan also received the Bronze Star with “V” for valor and Stover earned the Army Commendation Medal with “V.”

“If not for their actions that day, I would have been planning a memorial service,” Bechtold said. “Sergeant Lewis recognized and defeated [the suicide bomber]. [The three soldiers] blew the car up before it could enter the secured area. They demonstrated the fortitude and confidence of American soldiers.”

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