District Court Judge Lou Olivera presides over a treatment court for veterans with mental health issues in Cumberland County, N.C. A US veteran, who served for nearly two decades in the US Army, had fought to stay sober after he was charged with driving while impaired. Judge Olivera had seen this veteran 25 times during his battle, but confessed to lying about his most recent urine test, so Olivera sentenced him to one day in jail. However, the judge cared enough about this veteran that he spent the night with him to talk to him.
The veteran’s name is Sgt. Joseph Serna. Serna’s story that has led to his battle with alcohol is heart wrenching.
The Washington Post reports:
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 armored 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 armor,” 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 Hearts 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.
In an attempt to deal with his alcohol abuse, Sgt. Serna entered a veteran’s treatment court program. The judge presiding over the program was Judge Olivera.
When Serna confessed to lying about a urine test, the judge did sentence him, but also showed him compassion.
“When Joe first came to turn himself in, he was trembling,” Olivera said. “I decided that I’d spend the night serving with him.”
“Where are we going, judge?” Serna asked.
“We’re going to turn ourselves in,” Olivera responded.
The spent their time that day in jail trading stories about their time in the military, as Judge Olivera is also a Gulf War veteran.
“It was more of a father-son conversation,” Olivera said. “It was personal.”
“They have worn the uniform and we know they can be contributing members of society,” Olivera said. “We just want to get them back there.”
Olivera had compassion on Serna because he understood what it was like to be a soldier. He understand the things soldiers mentally face, and it appears that he had a genuine love for Sgt. Serna.
The Bible tells us that we have one who understands our weaknesses too.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. –Hebrews 4:14-16
While Olivera should be commended for his efforts to help men like Sgt. Serna, there is one greater than Judge Olivera, who not only knows what it is to be tempted, but also knows what it is to have victory over temptation. The person is Jesus Christ. For my veteran friends, as well as others, who may be struggling with a wide variety of issues in your life, Jesus does understand and he bids you to come to Him in repentance and faith.
The men under Judge Olivera’s supervision truly seem to have a man that cares about them. Well done Judge!