Army to honor local soldier at bowl event

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Sgt. Ben Graham was on a patrol in Iraq in 2007 when he was ambushed and shot at by a sniper.

A bullet that deflected off his weapon penetrated his face at the corner of his nose where it meets his cheek, entered his nasal cavity and lodged in the roof of his mouth.

Another round went into his ribcage.

Despite the bullet shrapnel still behind his thumb, in his left forearm and in his left ribcage, the Army Reserve noncommissioned officer talks about the injury matter-of-factly.

"After all the fire fights and incidents I have been in Iraq, it was the first time I've ever been injured," he said.

The deployment during which the Lilburn native was injured was his second to Iraq. He also spent a brief deployment in Afghanistan.

Given the option of returning home to recover from his injuries, Graham chose to remain in Iraq.

"As a leader of soldiers, sometimes it's not just about you," he said. "I have soldiers that depend on me. I felt like I needed to stay and I did heal up. Military doctors and the plastic surgeons we have are the best in the world. You can hardly tell now (that I was injured)."

Graham received a Purple Heart, which is presented to members of the U.S. military who have been wounded or killed during their service, in February 2007. He was recently chosen as one of 90 service men and women and one of 34 members of the U.S. Army Reserve who will be recognized as Soldier Heroes at the 10th anniversary U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 9. Army Soldier Heroes are Bronze Star, Silver Star and/or Purple Heart recipients and have served in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom.

"The heroic soldiers selected to participate in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl represent America's next greatest generation," said Lt. Gen. Jack C. Stultz, chief of the U.S. Army Reserve. "The commitment, selfless service and personal courage that each has shown in defending our country and our freedom demonstrates that they are Army Strong."

During the bowl week, Graham will be teamed up with a high school student-athlete chosen to participate in the game, sharing his leadership and Army experiences.

The Purple Heart isn't the only medal Graham wears.

He received an Army Commendation Medal with Valor following an incident that occurred during his first deployment to Iraq in 2004. A unit was ambushed while on combat patrol. When Graham's unit arrived, several soldiers and one of their leaders had been injured.

"I was able to get out of the truck and bring a couple of those guys into our truck while we were under fire," Graham said.

The sergeant was also awarded a Bronze Star with Valor following his second deployment to Iraq. Graham, who is EMT certified, received the medal for his decision to assist a unit whose tank had been blown up by a road bomb during an ambush in June 2007.

Despite his military service and the accolades and recognition he has received, Graham has a difficult time calling himself a Soldier Hero.

"The hardest thing at first was the term 'Soldier Hero,'" Graham recalled. "I think most soldiers, we don't look at ourselves as heroes," he said. "It's a duty that we do, something we have chosen to do. The heroes are the families at home."