View Full Version : U.S. Erik Oropeza Distinguished Service Cross Iraq

07-26-2009, 04:46 PM
Erik Oropeza

* Date of birth: 22 July 1986
* Place of birth: Los Angeles, Calif.
* Home of record: Los Angeles, Calif.

Awards and Citations

Distinguished Service Cross

Awarded for actions during the Global War on Terror

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918 (amended by act of July 25, 1963), takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Specialist Erik Oropeza, United States Army, for extraordinary heroism at the risk of his life while serving with the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 2d Infantry Division, in action on 22 May 2007, in support of Operation IRAQI Freedom, in Iraq. Specialist Oropeza demonstrated the highest degree of physical courage coupled with uncommon fortitude while engaged in combat operations against a fanatical enemy. His valorous actions following a deliberate ambush were directly responsible for preventing his vehicle and crew from being overrun by a superior enemy force. His own carbine destroyed, Specialist Oropeza defended his severely wounded crewmembers with the nearest available weapon and defeated a five-man enemy ground assault force maneuvering against him. Specialist Oropeza's extraordinary heroism and selflessness at the risk of his own life are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, the 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2d Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

Service: Army

Rank: Specialist

07-26-2009, 06:14 PM
Story From the Army Times

Spc. Erik Oropeza doesn’t remember hearing a thing when the 13 155mm howitzer rounds exploded beneath his Stryker.

“I remember seeing a white light and then it went dark,” said Oropeza, who had been driving his Stryker on a dirt road 10 kilometers north of Taji, Iraq.

The soldier from 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment regained consciousness a few minutes later and climbed out of his blown-open hatch.

The sharp crack of enemy automatic weapons fire snapped him out of his daze.

“I could hear the bullets whizzing by; I pretty much jumped from my driver hatch to the back right hatch of the Stryker” and ducked inside,” he recalled.

Oropeza’s Stryker had been drawn into a carefully planned ambush. Just a few minutes before, his vehicle and another Stryker from B Company were in a firefight with an enemy position on Main Supply Route Tampa.

Staff Sgt. Thomas Lee told Oropeza to drive down a dirt road off of Tampa so they could flank the enemy position.

The blast blew a hole up through the center of the eight-wheeled armored vehicle, killing two of his fellow soldiers and severely wounding three others.

Oropeza quickly realized he was the only one in his Stryker capable of fighting.

“I was outnumbered and I was afraid they were going to come and take over the Stryker,” he said.

Before the morning of May 22, 2007 was over, the young soldier had carried out action that would earn him the country’s second highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross. Oropeza, 22, is to receive the medal in a Feb. 13 ceremony at Fort Irwin.

He grabbed an M4 carbine with a M203 grenade launcher lying on top of the Stryker and returned fire on the enemy gunmen behind the nearby berm.

“I was firing it on burst mode,” he said. “I would go down on a knee and change magazines and kept on engaging.”

Then he fired a 40mm grenade from the grenade launcher before taking cover.

“The bullets were getting close to my head, so I ducked back in the hatch,” he said.

Oropeza heard the explosion and after that, he said, the enemy firing seemed to die down.

When he looked down in the Stryker, no one was moving.

He saw Pvt. Robert Worthington and knew he was dead. Worthington was lying on top of another soldier, who was bleeding from the face.

“I seen Staff Sgt. Lee. He looked at me; he was pale. He was missing his right leg below the knee,” Oropeza said. “He was just looking at me. I grabbed his leg, put a tourniquet on it. He was bleeding a lot; I tied it really hard.

“Once I tied it, I grabbed both of his hands and put them around the tourniquet because I was afraid it was going to slip off. He put his hands on it and he told me ‘OK.’ ”

When Oropeza looked up, he saw Staff Sgt. Kristopher Higdon.

“He was sitting down on the vehicle commander seat,” he said. “He was dead.”

Then Oropeza said he moved to the Stryker’s rear hatch, which was partially opened, and started waving at the other Stryker. The explosion had knocked out all the radios and electrical systems in the Stryker.

But the soldiers on the Stryker were in the middle of a fight and didn’t see him.

“I just stood there; I started hearing Pvt. Wilson and Staff Sgt. Lee screaming at me to go get help,” he said. “The whole time I was like ‘If I get out and start running down this road, they are going to shoot me.’ It was a pretty open area.”

But the medic was with the other Stryker and “I knew right away if I didn’t, Staff Sgt. Lee was going to die,” Orapeza said.

“After that, I changed the magazine out of my weapon, and I jumped out off the ramp.”

Oropeza saw three gunmen. He fired two bursts at them and took off running.

He fired over his shoulder as he ran for the other Stryker’s position about 100 meters away.

Then Oropeza caught a break.

The other Stryker’s M240 machine-gunner spotted him and laid down covering fire.

“After I heard the 240 open up, I felt so relieved,” he said.

When he reached the other Stryker, he quickly told his platoon sergeant the condition of his fellow soldiers and that they needed a medevac helicopter.

Sgt. 1st Class Kim Mendez told him “OK. OK. I’m calling it in on the radio,” Oropeza said.

Oropeza took his helmet off inside the Stryker. His head was pounding.

He drank some water, but soon it was time for the soldiers to dismount and go help the other Stryker.

“I got a couple of magazines from another soldier,” he said. “I was about to dismount, but Sgt. 1st Class Mendez grabbed me and said ‘You are not going anywhere; I’ve got to check you for wounds.’ ”

For Oropeza, the fight was over that day. He spent the next 13 months in Iraq with the 4-9 “Manchus” before returning home in June 2008.

May 22, 2007 “was a very bad day for the Manchus,” Sgt. Maj. Philip Pich, 4-9’s former command sergeant major, told Army Times. “We lost three that day and six or seven wounded in an hour period.

“The insurgents had planned this for about two weeks, we had heard from locals. The vehicle was almost blown in half … It is surprising that anybody lived through that.”

Pich said he was convinced the gunmen Oropeza engaged were trying to capture the Stryker.

Oropeza climbed “out of his hatch under heavy fire, engaged the enemy and broke their spirit,” Pich said. “He’s a super kid, a very quiet soldier. “He didn’t think he did anything spectacular.”

Oropeza re-enlisted in September for three more years and was re-assigned to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, Ca.

Two days after arriving to the unit on Dec. 10, he was told he would receive the DSC.

“It was a big surprise,” he said. “I don’t really care about medals. If I had a choice, I would pretty much be giving the medals to the people that passed away in Iraq. They gave a bigger sacrifice than I did.”

07-27-2009, 03:20 PM
outstanding kid.

07-27-2009, 05:03 PM
Yea I can't imagine how his head felt after 13 155 rounds, and still be able to function.

07-27-2009, 05:18 PM
no shit i have had my bell rung by 2 80mm mortar rounds blowing up the rear end of my hmmwv(1114). Bob he will end up having some form of TBI. If not then God really loves this kid.

07-27-2009, 06:01 PM
your right about the TBI