Wounded Iraq Veterans Given Housing, Jobs

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Wounded Iraq Veterans Given Housing, Jobs
by Brian Foley

Left, Sgt. Cristian Valle, who lost his legs in Iraq, returns a salute Wednesday at a ceremony given by the Livermore Sentinels of Freedom. Valle and Pfc. Justin Leon, who lost his right arm, were honored at Veterans Memorial Hall.

SAN FRANCISCO, Ca–SGT. CRISTIAN VALLE lost his legs when he was struck by a homemade bomb. Pfc. Justin Leon lost his right arm when his vehicle rolled over.

Their wounds from Iraq will remain visible. But their hearts were strong and undeterred Wednesday night for their homecoming ceremony at Veterans Memorial Hall.

Valle, 23 of Hayward and Leon, 21 of Redding are the recipients of four-year scholarships provided by the Livermore Sentinels of Freedom, a nonprofit organization that assists wounded soldiers with the often arduous transition to civilian life.

The Sentinels of Freedom has worked with Livermore housing officials in securing apartments for Valle and Leon and their families. Jobs also await them at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

On Wednesday, Valle and Leon were greeted by dozens of veterans, family members and admiring onlookers. Councilwoman Marj Leider gave a formal welcome, and they were handed keys to the city…

     

Valle and Leon were in full military dress as they offered their thanks for the warm reception and support.

I cant wait to start working and get back up again, said Valle, who walks on two prosthetic legs. Im here standing. Im going to keep fighting and live life.

Leon said he was grateful to the Sentinels of Freedom, but extended his thanks to his platoon leader, Sgt. 1st Class Jason Sager, whom he credits for saving his life. Sager received an extended standing ovation.

It was a shock, said Sager, who is stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky. Im not used to people talking about me. I was honored that Justin recognized me.

Sager estimated Leon was pinned under his vehicle for 30 minutes while Sager ran back and forth across a two-mile stretch to secure a crane to lift the vehicle off Leons arm.

We saw the vehicle blow up, essentially, Sager recalled. We had to come up with a way to get the vehicle off of him because he was underneath it.

Valle and Leon befriended each other while recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C. They have learned to adjust to their altered lives. Leon has gone skiing, and Valle has learned to scuba dive and play softball and golf.

Along with their apartments, Leon and Valle were given furniture from KB Home and Oakland Raiders tickets. Groth Brothers Chevrolet helped the Sentinels of Freedom obtain a special van so that Valle can drive to work.

Veterans in attendance said the way soldiers are greeted when they arrive from abroad can be immeasurable.

If you go over and nobody cares when you come home, it means nothing, said John Pecoraro, a Vietnam veteran and a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars. If its done in a way where the community is helping, then its a great thing.

Leo Walker, a World War II veteran, recalled a time when every young person served.

Back then, there were so many people coming back, every guy around you was a veteran at that time, so it wasnt a remote thing, he said. You came home and you looked for a job or went to college.

Lt. Col. Philip Young, a brigade commander, said homecomings resonate with soldiers.

It is the single most invaluable thing that a community can do, where they pull together their resources to provide support for soldiers who have serious injuries while serving abroad, he said. For the community of Livermore to do more than just the ribbons around a tree, they are doing something tangible. It shines through. It puts the light on the soldier and its completely invaluable.

To me, this is a somber event because to see wounded soldiers tears me apart, Young said. But you heard Sgt. Valle say, Im not down. Im driving on. And that spirit comes from being a soldier.

As the ceremony closed, Marilyn Carter, director of Sentinels of Freedom, told the audience that officers in the room were going to salute Leon and Valle for the last time.

Normally, when a soldier salutes an officer, he returns a salute, she said. For the first time and the last time, these soldiers will make their final salute. This time, the officers will salute first and these men will return the salute.

Five officers then lined up and saluted Leon and Valle. Then the officers told them to stand at ease and hugged them.


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