A 27-year-old University of Arkansas at Fort Smith student received one of the highest commendations an armed forces member can receive Tuesday.
Marine Sgt. Robert Lopez, also a student who is double-majoring in accounting and finance at UAFS, received the Bronze Star with Valor award by U.S. Marine Corps members 1st. Sgt. Michael J. Halten and India 3/23 Maj. Rhett Hansen, at 4 p.m. at his family's restaurant, Las Americas Too, at 1806 Zero St.
The Bronze Star is given to armed forces members for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone, according to a news release from UAFS employee, John Post, director of public information.
The award states that President Barack Obama, "takes pride in presenting the Bronze Star Medal."
A corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, Lopez was honored for " his heroic achievement in connection with combat operations against the enemy while serving as squad leader," for Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 2, 1st Marine Division (Forward), I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), from June 19, 2010, to Aug. 23, 2010, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the award states.
Aug. 22, 2010, Lopez was "leading his squad through the hostile northern green zone of Sangin, Afghanistan, when he was engaged with a grenade from a compound, according to the award."
The grenade was made out of a water bottle, Robert said.
The following day, "his squad was securing a compound when enemy fighters engaged his squad from three firing points with small arms and medium machine gun fire, forcing three of his teams to seek shelter," according to the award. "With his security element unable to return fire, he and his machine gunner mounted a wall and ran the length of it under heavy fire to a point from which they could suppress the enemy."
He then ordered his mortar team to suppress a tree line, which contained two enemy firing points.
The award also states, "He was successful after the impact of just two mortar rounds. His ability to bring combined arms to bear upon the enemy and his bravery in the face of heavy enemy fire undoubtedly silenced the enemy. By his extraordinary perseverance, zealous initiative and total dedication to duty, Cpl. Lopez reflected great credit upon him and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. naval service."
"I always wanted to be in the military, and when I was in high school I didn't know which one (branch) I wanted to join, Lopez said, "but I heard that the Marines are the first in, the tip-of-the-spear, the best-of-the-best, so that's why I joined them because they're the best-of-the-best.
After his mother, Mercedes Lopez, pinned the Bronze Star onto her son, Robert addressed the large crowd that came to support him, and said, "...I want to thank the support that the school has given me to readapt into the civilian world. I didn't go from seeing combat operations to being a professional overnight. That took progress."
Robert then thanked his parents and his sister, and said, "He's had some dark moments, but the one constant he has had is them."
He then gave his award to his father, Domingo Lopez.
"Because he is a very humble man, and sometimes they don't get the recognition that they should," Robert Lopez said, choking up.
When his father was asked about how he felt during that moment he said, "I was very happy," Domingo Lopez said. "This is my first time that he's had an event like this, that my only son (received this award), and I am so proud, very proud."
His mother said she is also very proud.
"There are no words for how I feel," Mercedes Lopez said. "I am so happy and very proud of him because he has honored us with what he's been through, but I don't have the words to explain how I feel. ... I am the happiest mama in the entire world."