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  1. #1
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    Default U.S. Service members of the year

    Army

    FORT JACKSON, S.C. — To watch 1st Sgt. Peter Lara make the rounds of privates in his basic training company at 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry, is to see how he brings soldiers into his trust.
    As a gaggle of sweaty young trainees gathers in the shade around a private too overwhelmed by the heat to continue the exercise, Lara asks questions about the pale soldier, then tells the trainees about surviving in combat. He speaks quietly. He doesn’t boast.
    His advice: Take care of your buddy and treat him with respect.
    Lara lives by his own advice and, by his own example, demonstrates how it’s done.
    “He is about absolute, total selfless service — it’s never about Pete Lara,” said Col. Chuck Webster, formerly Lara’s battalion commander.
    “He is all about his men, about the Army and serving.” “He gives his everything to soldiers,” said Shilo Lara, his wife of 19 years. “He mentors and directs them and makes sure they’re safe.” Everything he does today, for soldiers and for himself, is colored by what happened to him in combat, when he was severely wounded.
    Lara was three months into a deployment to Iraq on Nov. 19, 2005, when he and fellow soldiers of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team’s 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, were engaged in a fight in Mosul, Iraq, under heavy fire in close combat. He had been designated a platoon leader.
    Under close enemy fire, Lara was shot through the jaw, and shots disabled his weapon and pierced his arm. A bullet lodged in his head, but he didn’t realize it at the time. He was sure he would die.
    “I could hear my jawbone crunching away in there and my teeth were broken,” Lara said. He reached into his mouth to clear the teeth and bone from his airway and kept fighting, pulling another soldier out of the enemy fire. Lara was losing blood but refused help even as reinforcements arrived, fearing other soldiers would be in danger.
    For actions in the battle, members of his platoon received six Silver Star medals and one Distinguished Service Cross. Lara received one of the Silver Stars.
    Since then, Lara has had about 35 surgeries, one of them to remove the bullet from his head.
    He’s been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. He takes pills for pain and for traumatic brain injury. Nighttime brings fitful sleep, if any at all.
    But he has recovered better than doctors predicted. A slight limp and a controlled grimace are the only physical signs of what he’s been through.
    He refuses to use any of it as an excuse for giving up. He pushes himself through pain and strives to be an example of physical and mental excellence.
    He has scored the highest on his unit’s physical fitness test, even though he was on medical profile, and he regularly goes out on the trail with his drill sergeants to support their training activities.
    “My soldiers are still out there fighting and I’m just a dirtbag back here doing nothing. Being here is my way of giving back,” Lara told Army Times.
    Part of that is being available to other soldiers, on duty and off. He and his wife have opened their home to dozens of soldiers over the years. “We’re one big family — any*body who needs help is welcome in our home,” Shilo Lara said.
    He also stays in touch with almost everyone in his old platoon and, Shilo Lara said, has pushed some of them toward the help they needed.
    “These are infantrymen — they refuse to see a doctor or a psychiatrist. It’s taken a long time to realize he needed help for himself and he tells the guys they need help to get through this,” she said.
    An infantryman since he joined the Army in 1992 and a former drill sergeant, Lara had not known weakness before his wounds, his wife said. Now he’s trying to use that weakness to help others.
    “He didn’t have that life experience of being weak. He was all about strength and perseverance. Now his guidance is more about his experiences in trying to survive, Shilo Lara said. “It’s still ‘go, go, go,’ but now it’s also ‘Look at me, I’m broken but I’m still the one to beat’.” Lara extends his service beyond Fort Jackson. He played a key role in setting up Special Olympics events, encouraging hundreds of soldiers to donate their time at the event and help hand out medals.
    He and his wife, who have three children and four dogs, are in the process of adopting a foster child, he said, “because people out there need help.” “He’s a humble servant who really connects with soldiers and families,” Webster said. “Pete is able to touch people in ways that other people can’t.”


    Air Force
    AIRMAN OF THE YEAR
    STAFF SGT. MERCEDESKIMBLE CROSSLAND


    Assignment: Photographer, 31st Fighter Wing public affairs office at Aviano Air Base, Italy
    Staff Sgt. MercedesKimble Crossland is used to seeing life through a lens.
    Still, a voluntary deployment to Iraq in 2007 gave the 38-year-old New York native a perspective like none she had had.I was scared for my life,” said Crossland, now stationed at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Crossland shows her selflessness on and off duty, said those she has worked with.
    “She can inspire people to do whatever needs to be done,” said Honor Schulte-Usui, her former civilian supervisor at Altus Air Force Base, Okla.
    Air Force
    AIRMAN OF THE YEAR
    STAFF SGT. MERCEDESKIMBLE CROSSLAND


    MARINE OF THE YEAR
    CAPT. DANIEL RHODES


    Assignment: Subject matter expert for company-level operations centers
    In some of the most volatile and corrupt areas of Iraq, Capt.
    Daniel Rhodes — then a first lieutenant — was placed in charge of 200 Marines and an Iraqi militia of more than 500 men.
    He was deployed to Karmah from August 2008 until March as the commander of Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines. In just three months, he developed more than 30 relief projects that affected more than 350 Iraqi families and 1,000 students.
    Rhodes, 28, also put together a book of ethics that is used throughout the battalion to teach combat ethics and leadership classes. The book is intended to bring back fundamental training about Corps values, which Rhodes says has been lost in six years of war and a series of rapid turn-around deployments.


    SAILOR OF THE YEAR
    CECS (SCW/FMF) LAURO A. GARZA


    Assignment: 9th Naval Construction Regiment
    Most of the time, Senior Chief Construction Electrician (SCW/FMF) Lauro A. Garza doesn’t know the veteran being laid to rest at the national cemetery at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
    Garza, a 45-year-old Reserve Seabee, vol*unteers regularly at the cemetery, often playing “Taps” at back-to-back services using the trumpet he has owned since high school. The Iraq veteran, who is preparing to deploy to the Pacific, also is called upon whenever a sailor or Marine is scheduled to be buried. He has played “Taps” at more than 800 funerals, including more than 150 in the past year at this cemetery.
    In addition, he coordinates requests for blank ammunition used during the funerals, and visits wounded sailors at nearby Brooke Army Medical Center, bringing them groceries or completing electrical work at their homes.



    COAST GUARDSMAN OF THE YEAR
    EM2 CHARLES NEWTON


    Assignment: Coast Guard Sector Boston
    For Charles Newton, the Coast Guard recruitment commercial came at just the right time one night in June 2005.
    His tricked-out 2000 Dodge Intrepid had been stolen that day in June 2005, and he was fed up with Cleveland’s crime.
    “I have to get out of here,” Newton recalled thinking.
    Newton called the Coast Guard recruiter the next day and went to boot camp in Cape May, N.J., two weeks later.
    In just four years, Newton became a star aboard the crew of the ice-breaking tug Neah Bay, where he led efforts to volunteer for Greater Cleveland Habitat for Humanity and scheduled blood drives.
    On June 15, Newton transferred to Coast Guard Sector Boston, where he will provide electrical engineering support.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Army.jpg   af.jpg   marines.jpg   navy.jpg   cg.jpg  

    Last edited by bobdina; 07-13-2009 at 04:57 PM.

  2. #2
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    hmmm very interesting...loved the article
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