Poway High grad honored for valor during Afghanistan tour
By Emily Sorensen
A Poway High graduate was honored this week for his service to his country.
Specialist Charles Preiss, who graduated from Poway High School in 2007, was to be awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for Valor on Tuesday, Feb. 12 for his service in Afghanistan.
Preiss, who joined the Army in May of 2011, spent eight months in Afghanistan, and is currently stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. While in Afghanistan, Preiss was involved in six separate IED attacks, one of which gave him a concussion and led to his being awarded the Purple Heart.
Preiss kept cool and calm despite being “blown up,” as he put it, six times, assisting in the aftermath of IED attacks by doing everything from providing security, collecting sensitive materials, and providing medical assistance. Preiss also served as a bond man, carrying plastic handcuffs in order to restrain and question people. He carried one squad mate to a helicopter when there was no stretcher available after an IED attack. “I had multiple jobs at the time, because we had lost almost an entire squad [to injuries from IEDs],” said Preiss.
His actions assisting his squad leader, who was injured when a 100-pound IED hit their vehicle, helped prevent the man from being paralyzed by his vertebrae fractures. The squad leader was hit by the large gun on top of the vehicle. “He looked like he was in pain,” said Preiss, who provided medical care, got his leader into a comfortable position, and tried to keep him from moving before a stabilizing collar could be applied.
During one IED explosion, Preiss received a concussion. “I had a pretty good concussion, which felt like a bad migraine,” said Preiss, who had to spend 24 hours being watched to make sure he was OK. “Being blown up takes a lot out of you,” said Preiss. “I’m still kind of out of it, I’m constantly forgetting things.”
Born in San Diego, Preiss moved to Idaho and lived there for 11 years before returning to Poway. He played football for three years at Poway High School before quitting his senior year to focus on his grades. After leaving college in order to help support his family, Preiss studied mixed martial arts (MMA) in the hopes of going professional, but was injured before his first professional fight.
Preiss found himself “looking for somewhere I could go.” After some preliminary training with the Navy SEALs, Preiss was rejected for being too old and found himself interested in joining the Army. He went to basic training in May of 2011 at Fort Lewis. “I had a lot of fun at basic,” said Preiss. “The training was pretty easy because of my background.” Preiss also got to engage in some special forces training. “We had so much fun there,” said Preiss.
He was sent to Afghanistan in March 2012. “We showed up, did a week of training,” said Preiss. All six of the IED attacks Preiss experienced occurred in the first four months of his eight months in Afghanistan.
As time passed, Preiss said he was able to see a change in the country, and the people who lived there. “We went from not being able to go outside [without being attacked] to being able to walk all over the battle space,” said Preiss. “[Afghani] kids went from being scared of us, or being used by the Taliban to count us, to being friendly and excited to see us. When we got there, it was pretty bad, but when we left, it was pretty good, especially for the kids.”
Preiss’ dedication wasn’t just to helping improve the lives of the citizens of Afghanistan, but to protecting and assisting his fellow soldiers in any way he could. Preiss said he thought he was being awarded the Bronze Star for “everything I did there. I didn’t want to let our guys down,” said Preiss about his actions in Afghanistan.
Preiss still has a year and a half left in the Army. After his discharge, he’s hoping to become a San Diego police officer, with the hopes of someday getting on a SWAT team or a gang unit. “You have to protect home, you know,” said Preiss.
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