MSG Valarezo
Master Sgt. Carlos Valarezo stands outside the Alamodome in San Antonio, site of the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl. Photo by Rachael Tolliver/U.S. Army Cadet Command

Throughout his long and storied career as a U.S. Soldier, Master Sgt. Carlos Valarezo has spent time guarding the demilitarized zone on the Korean peninsula, worked as an improvised explosive device master gunner and deployed to Iraq three times and Afghanistan once in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

But his most memorable moment during his 23 years of service to his country wasn't something he has done, but rather something he wasn't able to do.

In 2003, while on patrol in Hywanghi, Iraq, with the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, Valarezo noticed a hand grenade land next to one of his younger Soldiers. Without even thinking twice, he jumped on top of his Soldier to shield him from the blast severely injuring himself in the process from the impact of the explosion.

As a result of the blast, Valarezo had to be medically evacuated from the battlefield and admits that leaving his Soldiers on the ground that day hurt more than the physical pain he felt from the shrapnel and burns.

"After I was hit, I actually tried to return fire and for a moment I was able to shout orders to my Soldiers and direct what needed to be done," Valarezo said, "but then I started to lose too much blood and had to be taken out of there. I felt embarrassed being carried off of the field because strong leaders always touch the ground first and leave last, and that was the first time that I couldn't do that."

It was exactly this kind of heroism that prompted Valarezo, now a U.S. Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps senior military instructor at the University of Arizona, to receive a Purple Heart along with numerous other medals and awards during his military career and helped propel his selection as one of the U.S. Army's Soldier Heroes during the 13th annual U.S. Army All American Bowl Jan. 5 in San Antonio.

Despite all of his accomplishments and being one of the few selected as a Soldier Hero, Valarezo's modesty won't allow him to believe he is worthy of such high praise.

"I honestly do not know why I was selected to go," Valarezo said. "There are other Soldiers better than me that have done more for their country, fellow Soldiers and family. I just did what leaders do and did my job as an infantry Soldier."

While Valarezo doesn't seem to get why he was selected as a Soldier Hero, others around him say it is obvious.

"A lot of people talk a good game, but Master Sgt. V does more with his actions," said Maj. Benjamin Walters, a professor of military science at the University of Arizona. "He is able to get kids excited for class and motivates them to do well when they are there and get over their short comings."

While Valarezo remains content to maintain a savoir-faire attitude regarding his heroic actions serving his country, he still understands that his selection as a Soldier Hero is an honor. He hopes to adequately represent his brothers who didn't make it back from combat.

"It is a great honor to be selected as a Soldier hero for the game, but those that are silent are the true Soldier heroes, and I will stand to represent them if I can," Valarezo said. "I just hope that I can honor their memory by helping to mentor these young athletes that are playing in the game."

Throughout the week leading up to the game, Soldier Heroes were matched with players from each roster to mentor them about what it means to be a hero and how to affect others lives. Much like his preparation for battle, Valarezo was ready for the mission and hopes to provide a positive impact on those he will mentor.

"If I get lucky and make a difference with one young soul to become a better person, then I'm happy and hopefully he will share his experience to help others," Valarezo said. "I really want to instill how they should focus on being a good role model for others that look up to them, to work hard and earn your keep, and tell the truth regardless of the path it will take you."

While Valarezo clearly shies away from the spotlight, when it came to the game itself he didn't mind being able to attend.

"I am really excited to be able to be on the field for the game, and I just wish I could have brought my son from Florida to experience it with me," Valarezo said. "I feel very proud that the Army and my chain of command believe that I am worthy of such an event."

Page last updated Tue January 8th, 2013 at 00:00