Joe Serna had nearly died several times during a nearly 20-year career with the U.S. Army, including multiple tours as a Green Beret in Afghanistan.
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But the near-death experience that haunted him most, occurred in 2008. The truck he and three other soldiers were riding in along a dirt road in Kandahar flipped into a canal. The water quickly rose to his chin, and the air inside the cab filled with diesel fumes.
Serna was trapped in the truck with three other soldiers, but one of them — Sgt. James Treber — reached down to unbuckle his seatbelt and freed him of his body armor. Serna managed to break free of the car but was unable to get anyone out. As the sole survivor, he has since suffered PTSD, flashbacks and other mental health issues.
Though he received three Purple Hearts in recognition of his service, Serna has fought to stay sober and frequently appeared before District Court Judge Lou Olivera, who oversees a treatment court for veterans suffering mental-health issues in Cumberland County, N.C.
Last spring, Serna appeared before him yet again — not for a progress check, but for violating probation on a DWI charge.
As a former intelligence officer in the Army during the Gulf War, Olivera knows all too well the horrors of war and the literal and figurative jagged scars they leave behind. Knowing Serna had to be held accountable for his actions, the judge sentenced him to one day in jail — but drove him there himself.
But what makes this such a remarkable story of unexpected compassion, is that when Serna heard the door of his cell rattle open, he turned to see Olivera walk inside.
Then a jailer locked the door behind him.
“This was a one-man cell so we sat on the bunk and I said, ‘You are here for the entire time with me?’”Serna asked. “He said, ‘Yeah that’s what I am doing.’â€
“I knew what Joe was going through and I knew Joe’s history. He had to be held accountable, but I just felt I had to go with him,”the judge explained.
Watch the video below to hear the whole story, and share this incredible act of compassion!
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