JROTC cadet saves commander's life

University High JROTC student Ismael Lopez, left, saved his batallion commander Alexandria Monroy from being hit in the head during a hammer throw competition at a recent track meet.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

For the first time, one of Waco Independent School District’s own could be honored with the U.S. Army’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps’ Medal of Heroism, the highest award a JROTC cadet can earn.

University High’s 1st Sgt. Leonard Montelongo is nominating junior Ismael Lopez for the award after Lopez saved the life of his battalion commander, senior Alexandria Monroy, during a track meet in April, Montelongo said Monday.

Montelongo heads the high school’s program, and he is in the process of gathering information and statements from witnesses to submit for the award, he said.

Lopez and Monroy were working the sidelines of the Michael Johnson Invitational’s hammer throw, returning hammers to athletes at Clyde Hart Track and Field Stadium, when one athlete’s throw went out of bounds.

“At the time, I was facing away from the cage, he was facing the cage. We were talking about all the cadets who left and how many cadets we had left and who was where,” Monroy said. “I got a text from one of the cadets, saying they had to leave and that’s when I heard everyone yelling, ‘Watch out, a ball’s coming.’”

As officials tried to get the cadets’ attention, Lopez stepped to the side while Monroy initially tried to duck and cover her head with her hands. She felt the wind from the hammer just as it passed by when Lopez raced for her, she said.

If Lopez hadn’t quickly reacted to pull Monroy out of the way, the more than 10-pound, iron ball attached to a thick wire would have struck Monroy on the head, they said.

“I was super shaky. I have really bad anxiety, so after that happened I don’t even remember what went through my mind at that point,” Monroy said.

Lopez, a second lieutenant, serves under Monroy, a lieutenant colonel in the program’s chain of command.

“Honestly, when something happens, I don’t think about what would happen to me,” Lopez said. “In my head, I kind of think about how other people get affected. If I get hurt, I get hurt. If I can stop someone else from getting hurt, then that’s what I’ll do.”

As Lopez’s cadet leader, Monroy said she sees that selflessness on a daily basis, whether it’s helping other cadets during drills or class work, she said.

“Whatever needs to be done first, he’ll do and he’ll take any consequences that come with it,” she said.

Lopez said the move was simply second nature.

To earn the medal, a cadet must have put themselves in the line of danger to protect someone else from harm, Montelongo said. Montelongo hopes to know whether or not Lopez is awarded the medal before the end of the school year, he said.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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