Reservist Recounts Silver Star Actions
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 13, 2005 He may have just been doing his job, but the actions of Spc. Jeremy L. Church saved lives when his convoy came under heavy fire one year ago. They also earned him the first Silver Star awarded to an Army reservist during the global war on terrorism.
Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, left, presents Spec. Jeremy L. Church with a Silver Star on Feb. 27 for his actions in Iraq. Next to him is 1st Lt. Matthew Brown, who commanded the convoy from the 724th Transportation Company out of Illinois that was ambushed as it made its way to Baghdad International Airport on April 9, 2004. Brown was hit by small-arms fire and lost his left eye. Church is credited with saving his commanders life and the lives of others in the convoy.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Church is humble about receiving the medal, among the nation's highest awards, given for gallantry against enemy action. "I'm honored to have received it," Church said today in a Pentagon interview. "But honestly, I was just doing my duty."
His duty on the morning of April 9, 2004, started with his unit, the 724th Transportation Company, from Bartonville, Ill., set to make an emergency fuel delivery. The original assignment to transport the fuel to western Iraq had changed earlier that morning.
The 26-vehicle convoy headed out from Balad around 11 a.m. en route to Baghdad International Airport. The hour-and-a-half trip dissolved into complete chaos five miles from its destination.
As the convoy approached the five-mile juncture, then-Pfc. Church and 1st Lt. Matt Brown in the lead vehicle said they encountered empty streets. There were no vehicles, unusual in Baghdad, Brown noted, and no people on the stretch of road.
The one person they did see was sprinting away from the road. That's when Brown, the convoy commander, realized the gravity of the situation.
He looked to another soldier in his vehicle and said, "Hey, I think we might be in trouble."
The answer was barely uttered when the small-arms fire began, Brown said.
"It was like a downpour on a tin roof," he said. "It was so noisy we couldn't talk.
"It was truly chaotic."
Five minutes into the firefight two bullets came through the windshield and struck Brown's Kevlar helmet just above his left eye. Had he not just turned to his right to try and locate a source of fire, he said he feels the shots may have hit him directly in the face.
As it was, his helmet imploded causing a deep gash and forcing his left eye from its socket. Simultaneously, there were explosions on either side of the vehicle, said Church, who was driving.
Church, his ears ringing from the concussion of the explosions, turned to ask Brown if he was OK and was met with a dazed-looking Brown holding his hand over his eye and covered in blood.
Driving one-handed through the hail of bullets, shrapnel and debris, Church used his other hand to tear open his first-aid kit to get a bandage and had Brown apply it to his injured eye.
At this point, Brown said, he hadn't been knocked out, but was disoriented. "I couldn't comprehend what was going on outside the vehicle," he said. "I couldn't focus past the windshield."
This technically left Sgt. 1st Class Robert Groff as the convoy commander. But he was at the rear of the convoy, so Church in the lead vehicle realistically became the convoy commander.
While maneuvering the vehicle with one hand toward a secured perimeter established by the 1st Cavalry Division's 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, just hours before this attack, Church used his other to fire his M-16 rifle at insurgents.
According to Brown and Church, from the time Brown was hit, it took between 15 and 20 minutes to get to the secured zone. From there, Brown was medevaced to the to Baghdad's heavily fortified International Zone, and he eventually ended up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he spent two months.
Brown had brain surgery to remove a subdural hematoma (a collection of blood between the inner skull surface and the brain) and his left eye. Currently still assigned to the 724th Transportation Company, he awaits a decision to be assigned to the Active Guard Reserve.
While his commander was being medevaced, Church headed back out into the fray on foot to help wounded civilians and soldiers.
When all was said and done, two 724th Transportation Company soldiers died. Another, Spc. Keith "Matt" Maupin, was captured and remains missing. Six civilians were also killed during the firefight. One, Thomas Hamill, Kellogg Brown & Root contract employee, was captured but escaped 24 days later.
As for the actions that earned him that medal, he just recently started talking about the ordeal. "I didn't talk about it once over in Iraq," Church said, noting his job there hadn't been completed yet.
Now that his duty in Iraq is done, he's discussed the incident more freely in the last few weeks since receiving his Silver Star.
As a reinforcement of his patriotic nature, not only did Church go out on the very next convoy he could get out on after the firefight. He also re-enlisted just before the company came home in February after a 14-month deployment. He said he will proudly serve in the Army Reserve for another six years.
In civilian life, Church used to work in theft prevention at a Wal-Mart store. He said now he's trying to obtain a position with the U.S. Postal Service.
Church said he'd like to work a civilian job where he's not getting shot at - strange thought for someone who spent the better part of 14 months in just such a position and volunteered for the possibility of doing it all over again. But Church said there's a difference in getting shot at for trying to stop someone from stealing a video recorder and getting shot at defending the country.