in Our Midst
*Valley Patriot of the
By Tom Duggan, (09/05/07)
residents know Francisco Urena as the citys
Veterans Services Director, but long before Urena
came to work for the city of Lawrence he was serving the
United States Marines in the 1st Tank Battalion in Iraq.
Urena was born in the Dominican Republic and grew up in
Lawrence, attending the Lawlor, Tarbox and Arlington
Schools before his family moved to Florida. In June of
1998 Urena joined the Marines, training at Paris Island
in South Carolina and then attending 2 ½ months of
training as a tank commander where he learned how to
operate the M1A1 tank, graduating as a tank crewman.
From there Urena was selected to go to Twenty-Nine Palms,
California, where he trained with tanks in the California
desert. There were hundreds of miles of
desert, Urena explained. We were trained to
be as efficient as possible in combat situations.
Little did he know that the training he was receiving
would be critical to the United States effort in Iraq to
secure the country against international terrorists.
Urena served as a security officer at the United States
Embassy after completing a rigorous course at Quantico,
Virginia, They wanted to make sure that the people
they selected for security for the U.S. embassies were of
sound mind and capable of handling diplomatic and
security situations overseas, he explained.
My first post after completing training was in
Damascus, Syria where I spent a year and a half.
There, Urena learned how to speak Arabic fluently,
which was very handy later on he admits.
Urena also learned how to speak fluent Russian when he
was assigned to his second post at the United
States Embassy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, a country which
was formerly part of the Soviet Republic. Kyrgyzstan is
located on the western border with China.
After returning home for a brief period of time in 2004,
Urena found himself on his way to Iraq as a tank
commander in the Spring of 2005. Urena was sent to the el
Anbar province of Iraq on the eastern border of Syria
It was pretty much a no-mans-land out there,
Urena says. Even Saddam Hussein had no power in
that region when he was in power. There was no law
enforcement at all, no rule of law it was total
lawlessness, total chaos he described.
During his time in Iraq, Urena was part of three major
operations; Operation Matador, Operation Spear and
Operation Quick Strike.
During operation Matador Urena was issued a navy
achievement medal for heroic actions and quick
decisiveness during combat operations where he and his
company were ambushed by terrorists. Urena was credited
for saving numerous lives and evacuated civilians from
the area safely while under heavy fire.
Operation Spear Urena showed his heroism once
again when he was hit with shrapnel in the face, We
were engaged in operations and the vehicle next to me was
engaging a suspected enemy target with 40MM rounds.
Thats when the van next to the house we were near
exploded, blowing fragments into my tank, he
I could see the shrapnel coming towards me when the
van exploded but I couldnt duck fast enough. I
didnt realize I was hit at first.
Urena refused to leave the area until several civilians
and military personnel could be evacuated and have their
medical needs tended to. I had no idea I was
bleeding profusely at the time all I could think about
was evacuating the civilians and protecting my men.
Urena laughed nervously as he described how he found out
that a piece of shrapnel was still lodged in his cheek
weeks later when he went for x-rays. There it was,
embedded in my cheek and I never knew it was there,
he said. I never reported the injury because I
didnt want to leave my men behind, so a crewman
gave me first aide and I just continued on with the
mission. I was on my way out of the Corps. By the time I
was nominated and when the investigation of the incident
was completed I wasnt in the Marines anymore.
Urena was out of the Corps. For more than a month when he
was awarded the purple heart.
Francisco Urena was honorably discharged on June 15,
2006, but his service to his country did not end there.
Like most real heroes who serve in the United States
Military, Urena came back to the states looking for ways
to continue serving, only this time serving his local
When I left the military I decided to return to
Lawrence, Urena continued. It was May of 2006
and the flood was just hitting Lawrence so I decided to
become involved and help out in any way I could.
Urena immediately went to the tent that city officials
had set up at the Hayden Schofield Playstead to help the
area flood victims. At first, Urena served as a
translator, helping flood victims receive critical
information from government officials, but when a local
cable access television crew said they needed someone to
volunteer as a cameraman Urena didnt hesitate to
At one point they asked Urena to take the microphone and
speak on camera about the emergency services that were
available and as soon as he began talking they recognized
his communication skills in front of the camera, asking
if he would help report on emergency procedures and news
of the flood. Soon Urena was translating for local, state
and federal officials, disseminating critical information
to the community.
Really, thats how I became involved in cable
access, he said. Two months later, while the
turmoil was going on in the Veterans Services
Office I started helping out Jorge DeJeus, (Acting
Veterans Services Director) doing paperwork and
helped him catch up on a backlog of cases. Urena
volunteered in Lawrence city hall during the day while
attending college at Northern Essex, taking a full
semester of classes in the evening and logging more
than 200 hours as a volunteer for the city.
When the position of Veterans Services
Director became available I applied for the job, but in
the mean time I signed up for a five day session of
training thats put uron by The Department of
Lawrence Mayor Michael J. Sullivan, recognizing
Urenas heroic record in the military and having
seen Urenas zealous efforts to help the community
as a volunteer, nominated him to be the citys
Veterans Services Director. Urena was hired on
February 13, 2007.
But Urenas service to the community doesnt
end there. Urena also volunteers his time reading to
children in the Lawrence public schools, an activity he
began while he was in the service. Hes also a
member of the VFW, American Legion, is a member of the
board of directors for cable access, and works with Boy
Scout Troop #2 training adult leaders as a unit
Urena is still attending college classes at Northern
Essex where he is studying political science.
Francisco Ureana, the Valley Patriot would like to thank
you for your heroic service to your country and your
community. We are honored to be able to tell a small part
of your story as our Valley Patriot of the Month. The
people of the Merrimack Valley and the United States owe
you a great debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.
*Send your questions comments to ValleyPatriot@aol.com
The September 2007
Edition of the Valley Patriot
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