FORT BRAGG — We expect our soldiers to risk their lives in combat. But one Fort Bragg soldier risked his life in a heroic mission at home. Thursday, he was recognized for it.
Staff Sergeant Pete Arroyo tried to save the paratroopers who died in last July's Blackhawk helicopter crash. Arroyo was awarded the highest peacetime award for acts of heroism.
"I had seen soldiers in a helicopter burning," Arroyo explained. "My life? It didn't bother me losing it trying to save soldiers."
Last July 8th, Pete Arroyo watched in horror from his car as the Blackhawk crashed. Arroyo rushed to the scene. When he got there, he thought he could save at least one of the victims: As I ran into the fire, I couldn't get close enough to him. When I came back out, I had yelled for one of the fire extinguishers from the truck.
Arroyo fought the intense flames trying to save that soldier and the others, but it was too late. Arroyo would later learn that soldier was a friend. That fact stays with Arroyo who constantly remembers the victim happened to be his neighbor.
Arroyo says while he's honored to receive the Soldier's Medal, he would gladly give it back if he could change that tragic day.
"It's another time I have to go through, knowing eight paratroopers passed away," admits Arroyo. "It stays with me the rest of my life."
With the help of friends and fellow soldiers, Arroyo has been able to overcome his fears and fly in a helicopter again. But he knows all too well that he can never erase the haunting memory of that fateful July day: There's nothing like seeing those soldiers. I hope they're in Heaven after all the pain I'd seen them suffer.