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Soldier's holiday miracle
There are not as many lights and other decorations at the Jauregui house as there might normally be, but few homes were as festive on Christmas Day.
Bron Jauregui, 7, woke up to an iPod Santa had left him; his 4-year-old brother Danny got a toy helicopter and a startup computer to help him learn his letters and numbers.
The nicest gift of all, however, was Alex Jauregui sharing those moments with his wife, Isa Marie, and their 3-month-old daughter, Lilly.
It is a holiday miracle.
Eight months ago, Staff Sgt. Alejandro Jauregui, 27, a 2003 Williams High graduate and nine-year veteran of the US Army, made a decision that would change his life.
"Our second squad had gone on patrol and had found an IED," Jauregui recounted from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where is assigned from his home base of Fort Bragg, NC.
An IED is an improvised explosive device, a roadside bomb, in essence, and the thing soldiers fear most.
"The firefights are actually fun. I'm an adrenaline junky, so the firefights are pretty exciting. What I don't like are the bombs. No one likes the bombs," said Jauregui, and by bombs he means the IEDs. The patrol unit had contacted the bomb disposal unit, which arrived at Jauregui's outpost for an escort to the patrol site.
"I was on radio guard ... and already dressed, so I took the patrol," Jauregui said.
The decision allowed a buddy of his to stay and get some extra sleep.
Jauregui's patrol arrived on scene and the situation was evaluated. It was then he noticed what he was told was an infant's grave.
"But it was out of place," Jauregui said.
He said it was facing east and west, and the custom of the locals was to bury the dead north to south. It proved to be another IED.
Jauregui informed the bomb team.
"And were going back to the site ... and that was when I stepped on my IED," Jauregui said.
It was unusual to have three in such close proximity.
The explosion took both of his legs: one above the knee; the other below it. He also lost the tips of a couple of fingers, took shrapnel to one of his forearms and nearly lost all of his hearing.
"I've lost all of my hearing in my right ear and 70 percent of my hearing in my left ear," said Jauregui, adding, however, that some of the hearing is returning now.
But don't offer up any pity.
Jauregui has no regrets, and he thinks of himself as pretty lucky.
"You can't feel sorry for yourself here. There is always someone else worse off than you," Jauregui said of Walter Reed.
"I have a friend who is a quad — he lost both his arms and legs — and there are guys here worse off than him," Jauregui said.
Isa Marie Jauregui was at the family home in Fort Bragg just three days from her discharge from the Army.
She and Alex had met while both were in Iraq, what was the second tour for Alex Jauregui. He would have two more in Afghanistan.
"It was Easter Sunday, and I was sitting on the couch watching cartoons with the boys," said Jauregui.
"And then I got a call from a number I didn't recognize. Normally on Sunday, I would not answer a call from a number I didn't recognize, but something made me think I should take this call."
On the other end of the phone was Alex Jauregui's rear detachment commander.
"He told me (Alex) had stepped on an IED and lost both of his legs and was in surgery. ... I didn't even know if he was alive."
Longtime friend Juan Loza said he first saw the news on Facebook.
"I started to call people, and then I called Germany," said Loza, also an Army veteran, forced from the military with a shoulder wound he suffered in a firefight. "I started to pull rank and lying to everyone and finally got someone who let me talk to him."
Loza, 28, said a day after his surgery, and despite the horrific injuries, Jauregui was talking about staying in the Army.
"He had no legs, and he was talking about staying in the military," Loza said.
Loza was born in the same Mexican village as Jauregui, and both families moved to Williams.
"We lived in the same apartment complex," Loza said.
"We were into the same kind of things, the things in Williams you can do: Growing up playing sports and being outside with your friends," Loza said.
The families even returned to Mexico and often celebrated Christmas together, going to dances and hanging out with a whole new set of friends.
Loza was planning on going to college after he graduated from Williams High, but found out something went wrong in processing his financial aid.
"I got mad, and I called the recruiter and told him I wanted to be an airborne Ranger," said Loza, who is back in school and working on his credential to be a PE teacher.
Jauregui said he never was much for school, and was inspired to join the military by Loza and another friend.
And if he could, he would stay in the Army.
"But I think I am getting out because I can't do the job that I love, which is an infantryman," Jauregui said.
He hopes that there will be a spot for him with the DEA or another federal agency, somewhere he can continue to fight.
Jauregui is happy to be home with his family for the Christmas season.
He said he has missed four or five during his military service, and while he has been kept busy during those deployments, it is tough to be away.
The one thing he regrets is, because of his injuries, he was not able to decorate the house as much as he would have liked. He knows his children are a bit disappointed.
Isa Marie said that may be true. They don't understand, yet, why their father cannot do everything he used to do.
But they will understand in time, and will appreciate what he does even more now.
"Obviously, we are more grateful for what we have," she said.
Isa Marie is looking forward to getting out of 2012 and into the new year.
She hopes she and Alex can go out and celebrate.