EUREKA, Calif. - Four members of the 132nd Multi-Role Bridge Company received distinguished awards in March and April for service rendered during the unit's 2012 deployment to Afghanistan.
Sgt. Arturo Pacheco and Spc. Nathaniel Warvi each earned the Soldier's Medal for lifesaving actions in July 2012 at great risk to their own lives. The medal is the highest honor a Soldier can receive for valor in a non-combat situation.
Spc. Nathaniel Warvi of the 132nd Multi-Role Bridge Company receives the Soldier's Medal from California Army National Guard Commander Maj. Gen. Lawrence A. Haskins on March 1, 2014 in Eureka, Calif. (California Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Susan Wohle photo by Sgt. Susan Wohle)
Maj. Gen. Lawrence A. Haskins, Commander of the California Army National Guard, presents the Soldier's Medal to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) Cadet Arturo Pacheco on April 18, 2014. Pacheco was a sergeant in the California National Guard. (CDCR photo by staff photographer Eric Owens)
While working on a bridge July 27, 2012, Pacheco and Warvi received a call to assist at the site of a nearby accident. They responded in a mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) recovery vehicle and found a 54-foot trailer and semi-truck had rolled over and trapped its driver.
While Pacheco and Warvi were using the MRAP's equipment to lift the overturned vehicle off its driver, the vehicle's batteries fell and stopped 18 inches above a pool of gasoline. Held only by connecting cables, the batteries posed a major threat of ignition to the driver and the rescuers.
After about 45 minutes of work, the man was finally freed and evacuated to receive medical care.
“When we pulled the truck off of that guy, we didn't even realize how dangerous it was,” Warvi said March 1 in Eureka, Calif., after receiving the Soldier's Medal. “I was in a combat zone more than 2 and a half miles from any other human being that I've known in my life besides my co-driver, Sgt. Pacheco."
“When you are in the moment, you just do the best you can,” he continued. “It all starts to sink in later when you realize, ‘That was really hairy,' looking back at it.”
Pacheco received his Soldier's Medal during a separate ceremony April 18 in Galt, Calif., where he was graduating from the state's Basic Correctional Officer Academy.
During pre-deployment training, the 132nd had spent time at Camp Roberts, Calif., being tutored by the Cal Guard training element Task Force Warrior.
“In the seven years I've been in the Army, the best training I've ever received is from our own Soldiers at Task Force Warrior,” Warvi said.
One of those Soldiers, Sgt. Jeffrey Johanson, accompanied Warvi to Afghanistan and later stood beside him March 1 in Eureka, Calif., to receive the Bronze Star.
Johanson's tactical experience gained through two previous deployments was instrumental during the unit's 2012 tour, when he served as a bridge crew chief. Johanson previously served on active duty, then had a 16-year break in service before joining the Guard.
Sgt. Michael Smith also earned a Bronze Star for his 2012 tour in Afghanistan, where he served as the primary build site reconnaissance and layout noncommissioned officer. Smith joined the Guard at age 17 and has been with the 132nd for 14 years, including three deployments.
A single father, Smith said March 1 that his 10-year-old son, Hunter, plans to follow in his father's “bootsteps.”
“He thinks we're the good guys, and he wants to be one of the good guys,” Smith said.
Smith added that he enjoys being in the military and is proud to serve his country.
“The award is a reflection of having a good squad,” he said. “My guys worked their tails off. Without them I wouldn't have received this. My accomplishment is their accomplishment.”
By California Army National Guard by Sgt. Susan Wohle
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