“A bunch of cowards got on planes on Sept. 11, 2001 and killed thousands of innocent Americans, so I reenlisted in the U.S. Army and went off to the Sunni Triangle in Iraq to fight these enemies.” So began the tale shared with Kiwanians by First Sergeant Norberto “Norbie” Lara who lost his right arm while in Iraq in June 2004 after a roadside bomb victimized his unit.
Norbie Lara is from Visalia. He served in the United States Army for more than 11 years including deployments in Kuwait and Bosnia, retiring as a Sergeant First Class after being severely wounded in Iraq.
The war hero told members of the Kiwanis Club of La Cañada of how he had been assigned to Quick Action Forces escorting ambulances from the battlefield in Iraq. On the day he was injured, he and the fellow soldiers he commanded had been on patrol when at 3 a.m. after patrolling all day he saw a bright light as his convoy turned a corner. A rocket-propelled grenade penetrated the vehicle’s firewall and severed his arm. Shrapnel from the explosion lacerated his liver and smoke inhalation caused severe lung damage.
“It was like time stood still,” Lara said recalling the event. “I reached for the door of my armed vehicle and tried to pull the door latch, but nothing happened. My right arm was gone!”
During evacuation from the scene, Lara slipped into unconsciousness and was placed in a medically induced coma. He awoke two months later at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. where he was being treated for his injuries. Lara was to remain at the hospital for two years where he faced the difficult journey of re-learning how to walk and talk.
Today “Sgt. Norbie” travels around the country for the non-profit Wounded Warriors organization working with wounded soldiers who are learning coping skills. Many of these wounded warriors commit suicide. Lara and others in his organization work to support these soldiers and to help them overcome the trauma that results from their injuries and the horrors they have seen in warfare.
Asked if his sacrifice was worth it, Lara said that losing his arm was an “inconvenience” – he was willing to give his life for the United States.
“The ideals our country is built on, I wouldn’t trade for anything,” he said. “Was it worth it? Yes.”
Lara represented the Army at the State of the Union address in 2005 and sat with First Lady Laura Bush in the Congressional gallery as a guest of President George W. Bush. He was awarded Veteran of the Year for both the 38th California Assembly District and by the Visalia Veteran’s Committee. He received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his heroism under fire.
Lara said that 40,000 soldiers and airmen were wounded in Iraq and that currently over 200,000 veterans are suffering with post traumatic stress as a result of the time spent in the war.
Wounded Warriors is a group of wounded warriors and caregivers who have been selected, like Sgt. Lara, to share their inspirational stories of courage, perseverance, and personal triumphs with the public while gaining self-confidence and career development skills. They offer interactive programs, rehabilitation retreats, peer support and professionals services to empower wounded warriors to maintain healthy, meaningful relationships and pursue like goals without the barriers and stigma associated with mental health issues. They also help the wounded to live active, healthy lives through adaptive sports, recreational activities, and nutrition education. This allows them to achieve independence and enjoy an improved quality of life.
More information can be obtained through www.warriorsspeak.org/norrberto.org.
Contributed by Al RESTIVO