Dec. 5 2008
WASHINGTON- Army Spec. Alex Lozano was on a routine security detail in Baghdad three weeks ago when he suddenly felt as though he’d been hit in the stomach with a baseball bat.
It wasn’t a bat but a bullet, which pierced the torso of the 21-year old East Lyme High School graduate, eventually causing him to lose a kidney. He is now recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
“I heard the crack of the shot and I ran back to my truck and collapsed down to try and let others know that something happened because I couldn’t really talk,” Lozano said from his hospital room. “At first I knew I got hit but I didn’t know I got shot. I started to undo my vest until I saw part of my stomach and the blood on my hands.”
Lozano was shot on Nov. 13. He was flown to a military hospital in Iraq, where surgeons removed his kidney and repaired his intestines. After a few days he was flown to a military hospital in Germany, where his mother, Maria Lozana, soon met him. Two weeks ago they flew to Washington.
“I remember being put on a helicopter or something and then I don’t remember too much after that,” Lozano said. “I remember getting rolled into a surgical ward, and the next thing I know I’m in Germany.”
Lozano said he is “doing a lot better” but still has pain in his stomach, back and throat. The bullet struck him in the right side of his back and exited his front left, leaving a “half-dollar sized wound,” as his mother put it.
He began occupational therapy at the beginning of the month-with the aid of a walker and other supports-and said he hopes to be home by Christmas, depending on his progress.
“The first time he got to the door and had to come back; now he walks a couple halls [in the ward],” said his mother, a teacher in Niantic. “It’s going slowly, but it’s going.”
Lozano’s throat is sore from the feeding tube removed a few days ago. So far he’s gotten by on Jello and pudding, but he was looking forward to a vanilla milkshake and fries from the Burger King in the hospital food court.
His mother said she hopes he’ll be well enough next weekend to take a bus tour of Washington organized by the hospital and tailored for convalescing soldiers.
In the meantime, Lozano has kept busy with leather work, a skill he picked up from his father, Phillip Lozano. As of Friday morning he had completed half of a pair of moccasins.
Lozano also has had a slew of hometown visitors, including his girlfriend of two years, Melissa Hemler, 20, who paid him a surprise visit Thursday night.
“I was scared and worried, but he’s amazing,” Hemler said of Lozano’s deployment to Iraq. “I knew he was going to be OK.”
Another visitor on Friday was Jim Barnes, the East Lyme school system’s security director, who brought with him roughly 500 get-well cards for Lozano and other wounded soldiers. Barnes knew Lozano when he was a member of the high school’s public safety club, which Barnes advises.
He joked that Lozano’s weakened voice wasn’t too much of a hurdle for the former student.
“Alex has always been soft-spoken,”‘ he said. “He’s a ‘walk softly but carry a big stick’ person-a man of few words, but good words.”
Maria Lozano said her son, who majored in criminal justice at the University of New Haven, has always been interested in law enforcement. He was a member of the East Lyme Police Explorers in high school and his father is a former Texas state trooper.
“He was making guns with little Legos in day care,” she said.
Lozano is a member of the 344th Military Police Company, which conducts joint patrols with Iraqi police and trains them. The unit includes more than 90 Army Reserve soldiers from Connecticut and Massachusetts.
They were in an area of Baghdad known for covert bombings of military vehicles; Lozano said he was at the front of a convoy when he was shot. He had been in Iraq since July, and had expected to return home in April.
As for what he’ll do back in Connecticut, Lozano, who was deployed during his sophomore year in college, said he’s not ready to look that far ahead.
“I just want to heal right now,” he said. “I’m really not thinking of anything else.”