Fallen soldier with Superior ties to receive medalSon of Superior's Sue and Bruce Vrooman, who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008, will soon receive the Bronze Star for Valor.
By: By Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D., Superior Telegram
A former Mitchell (S.D.) man who died during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2008 will soon receive the Bronze Star for Valor.
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jeremy Vrooman, who grew up in Mitchell from third to 11th grade, has been deemed a hero by soldiers he led into a mission July 15, 2008.
The Bronze Star for Valor is awarded for an act of merit and includes a V on the ribbon, which is awarded for heroism. The award is the fourth-highest combat award given in the U.S. Armed Forces, and the ninth-highest military award.
On Vrooman’s last mission, the soldiers were tasked with clearing buildings at a former brick factory outside Kn’an in the Diyala Province of Iraq.
Apparently, al Queda took over the factory complex months earlier. Vrooman and his men were to execute Operation Cougar Storm to clear the buildings of al Queda militants so workers could return.
What they didn’t expect was that the buildings would be empty and rigged to explode.
As a staff sergeant, Vrooman was appointed team leader and led two of his men in first.
“Jeremy confided to Robert Mainard that morning that he had a bad feeling about the mission,” said Sue Vrooman, Jeremy’s stepmother, in an e-mail to The Daily Republic. “Something was off. For one thing, it was too quiet. Jeremy told Mainard that if anything happens to him to please tell his wife and kids he loves them.”
Jeremy Vrooman delayed giving an order for the entire platoon to enter the buildings. Rather, he and two men — Mainard and John Humphrey — entered one building to survey the situation.
Just before the building exploded, the other troops received orders to enter the other buildings. As they were nearing entrances, the building Vrooman and his men entered detonated.
“Jeremy led from the front because he didn’t want to have any more casualties, just in case the buildings did happen to be wired,” Sue Vrooman said. “Jeremy saved a lot of lives because of his intuition and training. He is being credited with saving the lives of all 59 men involved in clearing the buildings.”
Fourteen soldiers immediately ran to the building to dig out Jeremy Vrooman, Mainard and Humphrey, despite cries that the building could still have other undetonated bombs.
They found Humphrey right away as he was by the front door. His right arm was nearly severed.
They found Mainard next, who was buried in rubble. He lost hearing in one ear.
Much later, the soldiers found the toe of Vrooman’s boot sticking out from the rubble. An I-beam had fallen on him, which soldiers removed with a machine. Medics worked to revive him for 45 minutes. He, Mainard and Humphrey were flown to Baghdad.
Doctors worked on Vrooman for three hours before he died.
“After the doctors had done their job, they got Jeremy ready for the Hero Flight to Kuwait,” Sue Vrooman said in an e-mail. “As Jeremy was being wheeled out of the hospital, all the doctors, nurses and available personnel lined the hallways and saluted Jeremy as he went by.”
Meanwhile, his fellow soldiers remained at the brick factory to carry out Operations Cougar Storm II and III.
The platoon found every building in the complex was wired, so the soldiers brought in the Air Force to drop 500 pound bombs on 10 of the buildings. Ground missiles destroyed the rest of the buildings.
Vrooman’s parents have been working to get the Bronze Star with Valor for their late son for two years. Tracking down and piecing together the entire story of the events of July 15, 2008, was the most difficult part, said Sue Vrooman, who lives with husband Bruce in Superior, Wis.
The next difficult, but surprisingly quick, venture was getting backing from Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl. His aide told the Vroomans this is the first award upgrade he’s been involved in and won, she added.
The Army will send the Bronze Star with Valor to Sen. Kohl, and he plans to present it to the Vroomans in a ceremony at the capitol in Madison, Wis.
Jeremy Vrooman was buried in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas, on July 25, 2008. His widow, Latrecia, and children, Xavier and Jade, live near there.
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