U.S. Army / Silver Star
Shot in battle for the first time, he overcame a serious injury to kill 11 insurgents after ambush
On the face of it, the Aug. 8, 2007 assignment to restore the flow of water to a village near Baqubah, Iraq, seemed simple enough. Find the damage to a system sabotaged by insurgents and repair it.
But from his vantage point on a Humvee turret, Spc. Jeremiah Church began to get nervous. There was a canal on one side of the narrow road, a steep drop-off on the other. And neither left his 82nd Airborne Division reconnaissance platoon room to maneuver if necessary.
“It might sound a little crazy, but the hair on the back of my neck was standing up,” he said, “and something didn’t feel right in my stomach.”
There was yet another sign: The children who usually flocked to convoys entering a village were nowhere in sight.
“Then I noticed a machine-gun nest off to my right that was kind of tucked off between two buildings … ”
Fire erupted from all around. The insurgents were dug in for a well-planned ambush, and Church’s Humvee was the only vehicle in position to respond with accurate fire.
Rounds smashed into the vehicles, destroying an Iraqi pickup and killing a policeman inside. Church immediately returned fire with his .50-caliber machine gun.
Insurgents had rolled a Russian DShK machine gun into the intersection ahead, closing off that escape route, but Church held firm, firing into their positions until he had to reload.
Then the enemy bullet hit him in the wrist.
“I had never been shot before,” Church recalled of the firefight in which he found himself taking on more than 30 insurgents. “When I got shot I looked at my arm, and some pretty colorful language came out of my mouth. I guess the thought I had going through my head was, ‘You (SOB)! I shoot you, you don’t shoot me!’ ”
Church applied a tourniquet to his wrist and resumed firing. “That kicked my intensity level up from a 10; I probably broke the (gun) knob off the rest of the way.”
Ignoring the pain and bleeding, he kept fighting, even leaving the Humvee to gather more ammunition. At one point, he began reloading with one hand, putting the injured hand inside the turret so the forward observer could apply pressure to his wound.
The damage to his wrist, however, was far worse than he knew. While the tourniquet addressed the wrist wound, an artery had been severed up to his elbow.
“In the majority of this firefight I was bleeding to death and didn’t even realize it,” he recalled.
Continuing to hemorrhage, Church finally passed out.
Later regaining consciousness, he got back into the fight, handing ammunition to the forward observer who had replaced Church on the machine gun.
In the end, Church’s actions destroyed the enemy machine gun, enabling his platoon to join the fight. And he was credited with killing 11 insurgents.
Church said that he didn’t really understand why he was receiving a Silver Star “until I realized just how much it actually meant to the people around me.
“It could have gone very wrong, real fast and real easy had I not been there, and it took a little while for that to sink in.”
Tim Holbert is program director of the American Veterans Center in Arlington, Va.
U.S. Army / Silver Star
Born Jan. 14, 1986, in Jamestown, N.Y.
Married. Nicknames are “Jere-Bear” and “Manimal.”
Joined the Army on Aug. 3, 2005, and deployed to Iraq exactly one year later.
WHAT HE DID
Continued to fire on Iraqi insurgents even after an enemy bullet severed an artery in his wrist during an ambush. Credited with killing 11 insurgents.
WHERE HE IS TODAY
A sergeant with the 4-73 Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in Afghanistan.
WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“It might sound corny, but ever since I was a little kid, as far back as I can remember, doing what I do now is the only goal that I ever had. My dream was to grow up, join the Army and go into combat. I signed up when I was 17, ready to go right out of high school.”
Iraq / Ba'qubah