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Immigrant from Cuba awarded Bronze Star

Associated Press

SEATTLE – A Cuban immigrant and Army combat medic whom the U.S. government has denied permission to return home to see his family has been awarded a Bronze Star for his actions in Iraq.

Sgt. Carlos Lazo and three fellow medics with the Washington state National Guard’s 81st Brigade were awarded the medals for exceptionally meritorious service at a ceremony Saturday.

Before the ceremony, Lazo made one of his regular calls to his two sons, ages 16 and 19, who remain in Cuba. He hasn’t seen his family since April 2003 because federal restrictions limit him to visiting Cuba once every three years.

“I’m proud to be an American, and I’m happy to serve,” Lazo said. “We were in Iraq fighting for freedom. And now I’m here, and I’m fighting Congress for the freedom to travel to Cuba.”

Lazo arrived in Key West, Fla., 13 years ago after leaving his native land on a raft. He later moved to Seattle and earned his U.S. citizenship.

In 2001, he joined the National Guard. He said it was a way to give back to the country that had provided so many opportunities.

“Lazo’s story is an American success story,” Lazo’s commander, Maj. Kurt Shevalier said. “He represents all the things people in uniform are supposed to represent.”

The 3,500 soldiers of Lazo’s 81st Brigade were called to active duty in November 2003 and spent a year in Iraq, seeing some of the bloodiest battles that occurred in Fallujah during that time.

Also receiving Bronze Star medals Saturday were Sgt. Jean Gautreaux, Spc. Marcos Chavez and Spc. Arthur Molina.

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