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First Army Reserve Soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom to earn silver star for heroism in fire fight

First Army Reserve Soldier in Operation Iraqi Freedom to earn silver star for heroism in fire fight

THE FIRE FIGHT

BAGHDAD — On April 9, 2004, then PFC Jeremy Church was a driver for the 724th Transportation Company and was with convoy commander 1LT Matthew Brown on an emergency fuel mission to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) when his fuel convoy came under attack by elements of Muqtada al Sadr’s militia.

While driving along a four-mile stretch of a six-lane highway near BIAP, approximately 200 insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades, improvised explosive devices (IEDs), machine guns and assault rifles attacked in an area that was surrounded by two and three level houses with narrow side streets.

As soon as Church’s vehicle entered the area of the ambush, it took small arms fire while explosives blasted the convoy from both sides of the road. Church drove aggressively to avoid the blasts and other obstacles such as guardrails, concrete barriers, and vehicles that were placed across the road to slow the movement of the convoy.

Within the first five minutes of the ambush, an enemy sniper wounded Brown with two shots to the head, while he was seated next to Church. Church grabbed his first aid pouch, ripped it open and instructed the wounded Brown to place a bandage over his left eye as Church continued to drive the Humvee.

While navigating the vehicle through obstacles, Church fired his rifle at insurgents with one hand while encouraging his platoon leader to stay conscious. Church continued to drive the Humvee on three tires for four miles while firing at enemy targets and changing magazines with one hand. He found an exit ramp and led the convoy to a security perimeter.

When out of range of the insurgents, Church carried Brown to safety where he could be treated and taken to a field hospital. He then rallied the troops to mount an immediate recovery mission, going back into the fire-fight to assist other Soldiers still pinned down under fire. Church identified the assistant commander’s vehicle amidst heavy black smoke and flaming wreckage of burning fuel tankers to find two more wounded Soldiers and four civilian truck drivers. He instinctively executed a hasty triage–identifying the most seriously wounded, administering first aid to a Soldier suffering from a chest wound, and then carrying the Soldier to a recovery vehicle–while exposing himself to continuous enemy fire from both sides of the road.

Once all the wounded were loaded, there was no room left for Church in the vehicle. He instructed the Soldiers to take the wounded back to safety while he waited in the thick of the gun battle, under constant enemy fire.

Church climbed into the disabled Humvee for cover, engaged enemy targets and killed several insurgents. The recovery team returned approximately 10 minutes later to pull him out of the battle.

Returning to safety, Church immediately rendered medical treatment to two civilians with minor wounds and loaded them into vehicles for ground evacuation. Before leaving the area, Church initiated a sweep of sensitive items and weapons to prevent capture by enemy forces.

Church’s bravery in the face of danger and leadership under fire saved the lives of at least five Soldiers and four civilians.

The award was presented to Church on Feb. 27, 2005 by the Chief, Army Reserve, LTG James R. Helmly during the homecoming ceremony for Soldiers of the 724th Transportation Company.

THE HERO

By Paul Adams Army Reserve Public Affairs

Jeremy Church has gone from working for a company apprehending shoplifters to becoming the first Army Reserve Soldier to earn the Nation’s third highest medal, the Silver Star, for heroic actions during the Global War on Terrorism.

Once responsible for insuring safety standards were adhered to as a loss prevention associate for Wal-Mart in Bloomington, Ill., prior to being mobilized, Church took on a much larger and more dangerous role as a basic fuel hauler and escort running gun trucks as an Army Reserve Specialist with the 724th Transportation Company. His job was to haul fuel or escort and protect the civilians who were hauling fuel in Iraq.

His actions would not only change him, but one day may change the world by saving the lives of Soldiers and civilians. The 27 year-old Illinois native’s story has been widely told since his return, as he, accompanied by his platoon leader, 1LT Matthew Brown, and Army Reserve officials, completed a four-day New York City media tour of television, radio and newspaper interviews while appearing on talk shows and news programs. Church, in a heroic and gallant action, saved the life of Brown on April 9, 2004, during one of the worst convoy attacks to occur in Iraq to date.

Following Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training as a military policeman, Church completed the Combat Life Saver course that he would later employ in his career to save lives in combat. “The Combat Life Saver course benefited me that day following the attack,” Church said in his matter-of-fact manner, “as well as the training I received from the 724th on how to drive the tanker systems.” Church deployed as a fuel hauler but later switched over to gun trucks to protect the civilians who were hauling fuel.

On that fateful day, April 9, 2004, Church was driving the convoy commander in a Humvee. He was designated as 1LT Matthew Brown’s driver back at Fort McCoy, before the unit deployed, when not running missions.

“Church is not a person who is concerned with his own wellbeing,” Brown said. “He puts others first and foremost, making sure other people are taken care of. I felt that I could count on him. I knew that he had a strong desire to do his job correctly. When you are my driver, you are my driver and there is no down time. He had a sense of dedication and willingness to do the job.”

Church credits his success and survival following the insurgent attack on his convoy to his fellow Soldiers and leaders in the 724th. “I am very proud to serve under the leadership I did and with the Soldiers of the 724th. And I appreciate all the support back in the States,” said Church.

Brown believes that Church doing what he did was due to his sense of loyalty and duty and fearless behavior. “When it came to that situation, Church reacted not because of his prior training (Combat Life Saver) but because of who he is as a person. Those skills gave him the ability to take care of Soldiers and MP training gave him some knowledge on returning fire,” Brown said.

According to Brown, the unit’s battle drills and training as Army Reserve Soldiers was paramount to reacting to the situation properly. But he added, “The real story here is Church going back into the kill zone, when he didn’t have to, when he put his life in jeopardy for everyone else and because he has such a loyalty and sense of duty to his fellow Soldiers and Company and to the Army Reserve.”

“Church was always ready and mission focused,” said SFC Robert Groff, platoon sergeant for 2nd Platoon, 724th. “He was very dedicated to his duty and the task at hand.”

Groff believes that Church had some of the Warrior Ethos, ‘Never leave a fallen comrade” instilled in him. “I believe [Church] felt that he as one could help somebody out.”

Church and his battle buddies would always stick together. One of these was SPC Justin Curry. “His drive and willingness to get everybody back and not wanting to get anybody else killed is what I think made him go back into the kill zone,” Curry said.

Brown said that he didn’t know Church very well on a personal basis back at Fort McCoy. “We got to know each other when we were driving the roads of Iraq. That is when I began to get the sense of his dedication. I expect Church will excel at anything he wants if he has the certain motivation to pursue a certain career. If he continues to be as focused as he is now, he will do well,” Brown said.

Church remains focused on finishing his education and pursuing a career as a police officer or postal employee and staying with the 724th. He has recently re-enlisted for another six years following his return from Iraq.

“I enjoy the military,” Church said. “It gives me a great sense of purpose. It gives me a foundation to form bonds with people and find very good friends and help change things in the world. I believe all Soldiers [in Iraq] are playing a part in changing the world,” Church said.

He includes himself in this.

THE SILVER STAR

The Silver Star is awarded to a person serving in the U.S. Army who is cited for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States–while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force or while serving with foreign forces in armed conflict in which the United States is not a belligerent party. The required gallantry must not only be uncommon, but marked with distinction.

The Citation Star was established by the 65th Congress on July 9, 1918. It was retroactive to include those cited for gallantry in action in previous campaigns back to the Spanish-American War. On July 19, 1932, the Secretary of War approved the Silver Star medal to replace the Citation Star. This design placed the Citation Star on a bronze pendant suspended from the ribbon design. Authorization for the Silver Star was placed into law by an Act of Congress for the Army on Dec. 15, 1942. So far, 147 Soldiers have been awarded the Silver Star for service in Operation Iraq Freedom and 25 Soldiers have been awarded the Silver Star for service in Operation Enduring Freedom.

COPYRIGHT 2005 U.S. Army Reserve

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group