(Grant Strunk/McCook Daily Gazette)
Staff Sgt. Alejandro Jauregui, 28, flew into the Kearney Regional Airport where he met Jan Collins of McCook, the mother of Nebraska National Guard Sgt. Randy Matheny, 20. Matheny died in February 2007 when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad.
Matheny was a member of North Platte's 1074th Transportation Co. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders were also scheduled to be in Kearney to escort Jauregui.
At the time of Matheny's death, Jauregui was working with the U.S. Army's 659th Maintenance Company's recovery crew, which followed the 1074th as it went on missions. When Matheny's three-person Armored Security Vehicle was hit by the IED, Jauregui jumped into the burning vehicle and pulled Matheny's body out of the gunner area where he was positioned.
"His actions made it possible for the family to have an open casket," Master Sgt. Dean Reicks (formerly of McCook) of the 1074th said of Jauregui.
Two other soldiers walked away from the explosion with minor injuries.
For his bravery, Jauregui earn the Army Commendation Medal with Valor.
Jauregui, a California native stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., served with the U.S. Army's B Co. of the 2/509th Parachute Infantry Regiment for two tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been on four deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
On his fourth deployment in February, as an airborne infantryman, he returned to Afghanistan and stepped on an IED on April 8.
He lost both his legs, the tips of two fingers, all of the hearing in his right ear and 70 percent of his hearing on his left ear.
Jauregui was fitted with prosthetics and walked for the first time in June. Saturday, he ran for the first time. Jauregui continues to recover at Walter Reed Navy Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He has a wife and three young children.
In addition to the Army Commendation Medal with Valor, Jauregui has received the Army Commendation, Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, a Purple Heart, and has been awarded the USO Award, which is presented to only one member from each branch of the service per year.
The Wounded Warriors program is a nonprofit organization that raises awareness for the needs of severely injured service members to help severely injured service members help each other and to provide programs and services to meet their needs.
Jauregui will be in the area for the next week spending time with Collins and the Matheny family, hunting, and spending time with members of the 1074th. He plans presentations at Kearney Catholic High School and Ravenna Public Schools.