By DELAWESE FULTON, Fort Jackson LeaderJuly 10, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- For his valor and service, 1st Sgt. Peter Lara is being honored today as the 2009 Army Times "Soldier of the Year" at a reception in Washington.
The honor culminates several that Lara has received since a 2005 battle in Mosul, Iraq.
Lara, 36, was severely wounded in the conflict.
"I was shot in the head, arm, leg and neck ...," he said.
According to the award citation, Lara cleared the teeth and bone from his airway so that he could keep fighting.
A bullet had become lodged in his brain during the firefight, though he would not find out until afterward.
Even then, he said, he refused treatment until he was sure his Soldiers were OK.
Lara, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment first sergeant, has been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star and the Order of St. Maurice. The Order of St. Maurice is awarded by the National Infantry Association. There are five levels of the Order of St. Maurice. Lara received the Centurion award, the second highest level.
Despite his awards, Lara gives much of the credit to his fellow Soldiers of the 172nd Striker Brigade's 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment.
It was the Soldiers in his platoon, he said, who got him to safety during the assault.
Lara said he is among 17 Soldiers in his platoon to have received a Purple Heart.
Lt. Col. Randall Harris, former battalion commander of the 3rd Bn., 13th In. Reg., said he is not surprised that Lara was named "Soldier of the Year."
"He is a hardworking leader who has never let his combat injuries slow down his determination or desire to train soldiers," Harris said.
He added, "He is one of the toughest and hardest working infantryman I have worked with."
According to a citation provided to the Army Times, Lara set aside his own health issues and made helping other wounded Sol diers his priority. He assisted them with their paperwork, and made sure they attended physical therapy and doctor appointments.
Getting the Army Times award has been a "humbling experience," Lara said.
He said he appreciates that his service and that of his platoon in Iraq continues to be recognized.
"It's given me a lot of confidence," said Lara, who has served 17 years in the Army.
Despite his injuries, Lara said he will push forward to reach a goal of 20 years of service.
He also thanks his wife Shilo and their three children for being there for him. He is especially grateful to his wife. Lara said her strength through his multiple operations, gave him the will to hang on.
He has had 35 surgeries altogether.
"All in all, the only reason I'm here is basically because of my wife and kids. I am alive because of her and my Soldiers," Lara said.
Lara's wife Shilo, Staff Sgt. Erick Corrales of the 3rd Bn., 13th In. Reg. and 1st Sgt. Ron Quinn of the Warrior Transition Unit in Europe were among several who nominated him for the award.
The "Soldier of the Year" award was established in 2001 by the Army Times Publishing Co. The award is given to service members who are the epitome of excellence, professionalism and dedication to their country and community. Army Times and Military Times Media Group also recognize Sailor, Marine, Airman and Coast Guardsman of the year.
Army Times reporter Gina Cavallaro said Lara was the standout among "dozens of nominations."
Cavallaro said Lara's nominators commended him for continuing to serve in the Army despite his numerous injuries and always giving his best to every Soldier he helps train.
"(Peter Lara) is at once every Soldier and a standout among Soldiers because he's all about achieving his personal best and he inspires others to do the same," she said.