Local News

Green Beret gets award for noncombat heroism

Posted July 15, 2009 12:47 p.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2009 7:12 p.m. EDT

— In the final minutes of Sgt. James Treber's life, frigid water filling his armored truck, the 24-year-old freed a pinned comrade and shoved the man into the small air pocket he'd been using to breathe.

Treber didn't make it out of the canal in Afghanistan alive, but he saved another Special Forces soldier. The Army presented his family with a Soldier's Medal – an award for heroism performed while not in combat.

"To me, it's like the beginning of the healing process," his father, Gordon Treber of Astoria, Ore., said Wednesday. He said earlier this week that he was proud of his son.

Treber's wife, Tamila, of Hope Mills,  and stepmother also attended the ceremony at the Special Forces Rock Garden at Fort Bragg.

About 130 Soldier's Medals have been awarded since late 2001, according to military records.

For Sgt. 1st Class Joseph A. Serna, June 28 is a painful memory.

The truck he and Treber were traveling in toppled from a narrow dirt road in Kandahar province and  rolled upside down. In a statement after the accident, Serna described hanging upside down in the darkness and struggling to get his seat belt unfastened, but ammunition cans kept him trapped in the compartment.

"I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor. Sgt. Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air," Serna said. "He knew there was not enough room for both of us to breathe so he went under water to find another pocket of air."

Treber ducked back into the frigid water trying to open the door and searching until his last breath for another air pocket. He drowned with two of his teammates.

"What a tragic yet remarkable story of courage, selfless service and the willingness to give one's life for the sake of another," said Col. James Kraft, the 7th Special Forces Group commander, at the ceremony. "Sgt. Treber's character was in full display that heartbreaking evening, and we will forever remember and cherish his heroic actions."

Serna declined to talk about the rollover because the memory is still too traumatic. He said in an e-mail to the Associated Press on Tuesday that he relives it every day. He met Treber five months before they left for Afghanistan.

Serna said via e-mail he remains thankful for Treber's actions and is pleased to see him recognized.

"Because of James' actions that night, he will always be a hero to my regiment, my family and I," Serna wrote.

James Treber was born in Hawaii and grew up in San Diego, Calif.

The elder Treber said his son had a reputation for being able to do anything physical. He remembers his son shrugging off scrapes and bruises from skateboarding and mountain biking and in elementary school jumping from a 6-foot fence to a jungle gym.

"When he wanted a bicycle," Gordon Treber said. "It had to be a stunt bike."

James Treber leaned toward the military early. He joined junior ROTC in high school and enrolled in a merchant marine apprentice program. Even before Treber graduated, his father, a 26-year Navy veteran, said his son was swayed by the Army's Special Forces pitch.

He found his way to the Special Forces, joining in 2005.

Gordon Treber said when he found out how his son died, he wasn't surprised.

"He wasn't one to submit. I am sure he was fighting to the last," Treber said. "I don't look at James as a victim of anything. He knew what he was getting into. He was well aware of the dangers, but he took that challenge."