A humble hero

A story of courage, self sacrifice and patriotism

UNITED STATES ARMY veteran Sergio Lopez recently spoke to Grundy Area Vocational Center students in Jeff Hanley’s criminal justice course at Coal City High School. Lopez spoke of his service that took him to Iraq twice. His second tour ended 10 days after his arrival when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED). Courtesy photo

Sergio Lopez was born in Mexico City and emmigrated to the United States at the age of 10. He graduated from high school and following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Lopez, who is now retired from the military, shared his story with Grundy Area Vocational Center students enrolled in Jeff Hanley’s criminal justice class at Coal City High School.
As Hanley reports, Lopez’s story is, “one of courage, self sacrifice and patriotism.”
Lopez entered the service in May 2003, completed basic training and after advanced individual training he was assigned to the 4th Mechanized Infantry Division in Ft. Hood, Texas.
“In the Army, there are two types of people, ‘the fighters and everyone else,’" said Lopez, who wanted to be a fighter. However, he didn't like walking, so he chose to be a tanker.  
Lopez said the motto passed down for years by tankers is, "Why carry a weapon, when your weapon can carry you."
Just weeks after arriving in Texas, he was shipped out on his first tour to Tikrit, Iraq.
The highlight of Sergio's first combat tour was the capture of a high value target. In December 2003,  Lopez' unit provided perimeter security for a special forces unit called Task Force 121 near ad-Dawr, Iraq.              They assisted in the capture of the "Ace of Spades" on the deck of cards that held the 52 most wanted subjects in Iraq. The subject, Sadaam Hussein, the former president of Iraq.
All the new guys like Lopez were placed in staff positions, forced to drive Humvees wherever they went. Lopez had to earn his way into a tank.  He volunteered for an assignment escorting explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) soldiers to blow up IEDs and other enemy threats.  
 In March 2004, after five months in Iraq, Lopez returned to the states.
Then in January 2006, his unit was sent back to Iraq, this time to take control of Baghdad.
Just 10 days into his second tour in Iraq this is what happened to Lopez, in his own words.
 "I wasn't on a special mission. It wasn't anything obviously dangerous. We had two OPs (observation posts) outside the wire, known as FOB (forward operating base).  On this particular mission, I was taking an Arabic interpreter from the FOB to a compound where some scouts from the 101st Airborne were preparing for a raid in the middle of the night.
"The commander had a policy that every truck that left the FOB had to have a medic. So, in addition to me and the interpreter, there was a medic and gunner.  The compound wasn't more than a 10 minute drive from the FOB. On that short trip, we got hit by an IED.  I immediately lost consciousness and when I came to, I was being worked on by the medic.  
“I looked over at my truck and saw the front driver's side tire completely sideways and that part of the truck destroyed. The rest of the truck was completely untouched and no one else was hurt.  I later found out that the IED was command detonated."  Meaning someone was out there waiting patiently for Lopez to drive into his kill zone.
Lopez told the students from the time he was injured until he was on a medivac helicopter was about 18 minutes. He expressed his appreciation to the professionals  who saw him through his recovery from the combat medic in his Humvee, to the doctors, nurses, physical therapist and entire medical staff.
Lopez took the time to stress to the students how thankful he was that all of those individuals took the time to get an education to be able to do what they do in the treatment of others.
Hanley said it amazed the students that when  asked how it all happened, Lopez started with, "it wasn't an important mission."  
“Talk about humble.  This soldier was on a road outside of Baghdad, Iraq in January 2006. I'm sure we all would agree he was putting his life on the line.  This was perhaps one of the most dangerous missions we ask soldiers to perform,” Hanley said.
As a result of the attack, Lopez’s foot, ankles and lower legs were completely shattered, broken in pieces. Doctors told him that he had a choice, keep his legs and have the bones fused together or amputate below the knee.  He knew that he wouldn't have as much mobility if he kept his legs and opted to have them amputated.
He noted that with today's technology, he'll be able to move as good as when he had his actual legs.   After 10 surgeries and 2 .5  months of intense rehabilitation Lopez was walking on two prosthetic legs. In all he spent nearly 10 months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
On July 24, 2006, while at Walter Reed Medical Center,  Lopez was sworn in to become a naturalized United States citizen by President George W. Bush.
Lopez said he has no regrets about going to Iraq and he doesn't blame anyone for what happened. In fact, if  he were able to do it all over again he would.
According to Lopez,  he'd much rather be fighting the enemy there, than having them come here and hurt people who can't defend themselves.
Today, Lopez is a stay-at-home dad to two daughters.  He volunteers by delivering for Meals on Wheels and with the Disabled Patriot Fund and the Associated Firefighters of Illinois (AFFI) Warrior Program.
As Lopez told the students he went from, "warfighter to Mrs. Doubtfire."  
“His patriotism and attitude are an inspiration to all who meet him. He was proud to serve his country and said he'd do it all over again to make our nation safe,” Hanley said.  “His story deeply impacted the students and it was an honor to have him speak to the criminal justice classes as part of our Veterans Day commemoration.”