The judge knew that Sgt. Joseph Serna had been through a lot.
The former Special Forces soldier did four combat tours in Afghanistan over a nearly two-decades-long career with the U.S. army. Through those years, the Fayetteville Observer reported, Serna was almost killed three times: once, by a roadside bomb, then again by a suicide bomber.
During a tour in 2008, Serna and three other soldiers were driving down a narrow dirt road in Kandahar when their armoured truck toppled into a canal, The Associated Press reported. As water filled the vehicle, Serna struggled to escape.
It was his fellow soldier, Sgt. James Treber, who saved him.
“I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armour,” Serna recalled to the AP. “Sgt. Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air. 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 died from the accident, but Serna survived. He was the only one who did.
While Serna’s years in combat earned him three Purple Heart medals, for the wounds he’s sustained, and other military accolades; like many combat vets, he’s been unable to leave the battlefield behind him. Since returning to the U.S., the decorated Green Beret has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, WTVD reported, and been charged with driving under the influence.