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Isle-based soldier humble about heroic action in Iraq


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POSTED: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hawaii-based Army Sgt. Justin A. Cooper didn't think of danger as he ran to a burning truck in Iraq to save a comrade's life.

“;I'm honored someone thinks so highly of what I did,”; said Cooper yesterday after receiving a Bronze Star with a V device for valor. “;I simply did what I was told to do.”;

Maj. Gen. Raymond Mason presented the medal to Cooper, of Columbus, Ohio, in front of more than 100 Army members, who lined the halls and filled the chapel at Helemano Military Reservation.

The Bronze Star is awarded to military members who display heroic achievements while engaged in action against an opposing foreign force, and the valor device represents an act of heroism during combat, according to the Army.

Mason, commander of the 8th Theater Sustainment Command at Fort Shafter, commended Cooper for remembering the Army values and said he represents “;integrity and personal courage.”;

Cooper is a member of the 552nd Military Police Company, 728th Military Police Battalion.

On Oct. 16, 2007, Cooper and his squad were leaving the Al Rashidayah Local Police Station in Mosul when an antiarmor hand grenade exploded in their truck, according to the Army. The driver tried to push through but only traveled 15 to 20 feet before the vehicle caught fire and filled with smoke.

Cooper evacuated his squad, and heard Pfc. Michael Brown yell that he couldn't feel his foot, the Army said. Cooper ran back into the burning truck and pulled Brown out, away from the blaze. He applied a tourniquet to Brown's leg and helped his squad get to safety.

“;I didn't have to think. I just reacted,”; said Cooper yesterday. “;In training it was always my car that was hit, so I knew exactly what to do, how to react.”;

Cooper thanked Ann Marie, his wife of seven years.

“;Without my wife I couldn't do it,”; he said. “;She supports me in absolutely everything I do.”;

He also thanked his squad and God for helping him get through that attack.

“;I have to thank God because it could've been worse. We could've lost all three of us,”; said Cooper.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Kjos, who also received a Bronze Star, was the squad leader on the mission and witnessed Cooper's bravery.

“;He's an amazing soldier,”; said Kjos. “;His dedication to his team is a definite credit to the NCO Corps and himself.”;

Cooper and Brown, whose leg had to be amputated after the explosion, remain in touch and call each other on a weekly basis.

“;He tells me 'thank you' every time I call him. He gets to say 'good night' to his little girl every day.”;

When asked if he would react the same way in that situation, Cooper said, “;I'd do it again, without hesitation. I did it because I needed to save his life. He was my responsibility, period.”;