A medic from Modesto who twice braved machine gun fire while trying to save wounded comrades from a midnight ambush in Iraq was hailed as a hero last week by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Cheney presented Army Spc. Veronica Alfaro, 23, with the Bronze Star Medal for Valor in a ceremony March 19 in Baghdad. It is the country's fourth-highest award, and the "V," for valor, makes it rare, according to an Army spokesman.
Tina Alfaro, Veronica Alfaro's mother, said the medal was good and bad news.
"She called us Saturday and informed us she received the (medal)," Tina Alfaro said. "What do you say? You cry and you're happy."
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Veronica Alfaro, a 2002 graduate of Downey High School, is a medic and driver in the Alaska National Guard. She joined the California Guard in 2006, but volunteered in 2007 for an Alaskan unit that was being deployed to Iraq.
She was unavailable for comment, but the National Guard provided this account of her bravery on Jan. 15:
Heavily armed insurgents confronted Alfaro, who is with Bravo Company, 297th Support Battalion. She was driving a gun truck as an escort for a civilian convoy on the main U.S. supply route between Baghdad and Balad, about 50 miles to the north. The ambush came just after midnight when four machine guns lit up the night from positions concealed by brush.
Alfaro turned into the fire to protect some of the civilian drivers and give her gunner a shot at the attackers. According to the Guard, a barrage of bullets pelted her vehicle.
She wasn't hit, but the civilian driver of the vehicle ahead of her was. Alfaro grabbed medical supplies and sprinted to the position, more than 50 yards away. Members of Alfaro's crew reported seeing bullets kicking up dust at her feet and tracer rounds whizzing past her head.
When she reached the wounded driver, she used her body as a shield as she tried to help him. The driver later died from his injuries. Moments after trying to help him, a report of another wounded civilian driver came over the radio, leading Alfaro to hop into a gun truck and rush to that position, where she was able to save the second driver.
"Spc. Alfaro's courage under fire is exceptional," Bravo Company commander Capt. Joshua Shrader of Juneau, Alaska, said in the written citation. "She helps make this hostile environment a little safer through her actions and willingness to help protect everyone around her."
Tina Alfaro said her daughter often had talked about helping others. "If she can do her job and send someone's loved one home, that's what really counts. We not only pray for our daughter, but everyone's child that's over there."
Her mother said Veronica Alfaro would be coming home with her unit in April, but had taken an officer's course and might be enlisting in the Army full-time.
The Alfaros had stayed home last weekend just in case their daughter called. Veronica Alfaro received the medal from Cheney on her parents' 25th anniversary.
She gave her parents a heads-up to watch the news after the ceremony, but the story was not covered by the networks. "We saw it on the Internet," Tina Alfaro said.
January's events reminded Tina Alfaro of an earlier call from her daughter from the war zone.
"She said she just called to say 'hi,' and I could hear something in her voice," Tina Alfaro said. "She couldn't say much, but they had lost a soldier to an IED (improvised explosive device). I asked if she had to use her medical training, and she said she had.
"I told her, 'You can only do what you can do. The rest is in God's hands.' "
Tina Alfaro said she told her daughter that "as a mother, God forbid anything should happen, but I would want to know she was taken care of and someone was with her to comfort her."
The Anchorage Daily News contributed to this report.
Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2311.