San Diego

Purple Heart Recipient Graduates Police Academy with Highest Honor

A wounded U.S Marine veteran, distinguished with a Purple Heart, was one of the newest officers to join the ranks of the Chula Vista Police Department (CVPD), Friday.

Christopher Lawrence, 30, originally from Milwaukee, is a decorated combat veteran who overcame severe war injuries and a rejected admission into another police department before finally graduating at the top of his class from the Southwestern Community College Police Academy on June 10.

In 2007, Lawrence served in Operation Iraqi Freedom. As he crossed a bridge to the mainland, insurgents watched from a distance and detonated an IED placed beneath it.

Chula Vista police said he suffered life-threatening injuries in the explosion, badly damaging his arms and legs. His comrades said the blast tossed him into the air as high as a palm tree.

In the U.S., doctors initially worked to save both his legs, but said he'd always need to use a walker.

In 2008, Lawrence made the decision to have one leg replaced with a prosthetic, in the hope of prolonging his military career.

After dozens of surgeries, Lawrence was told he would never walk again without assistance or have normal use of his arm, according to Chula Vista police. But he never stopped working to rehabilitate himself.

Lawrence honorably retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2010. In the end, his decision to remove one leg actually helped secure his career in police work.

Despite a few rejections in the application process to different police agencies, Lawrence decided to enroll in the Southwestern Police Academy to prove that he could physically do the job, said Chula Vista police. Word of his courage, physical ability and personal character spread, and soon multiple agencies competed to hire him.

"I have never met a more abled-body person in my life,” said Chula Vista Police Chief Roxana Kennedy said of Laurence, “The power of his attitude and character and the strength in his heart easily overcome the physical challenges. His life and the challenges he has overcome are an inspiration to others."

On Friday Laurence was sworn in with his academy classmate, Stephanie Campolo, as the two became the newest Chula Vista Police Officers.

He's the first to admit his childhood didn't resemble that of a boy scout. Lawrence grew up living in and out of various foster homes in Milwaukee's inner city. But he believes his back story will help him succeed and connect with different people.

"I could understand what some people are going through and they could maybe appreciate what I've gone through, and we can connect on another level," said Lawrence. "You needed someone to look past the story, exactly, to look past the injuries, to say the injuries don't really hold me back," explained Lawrence.

"I couldn't be more proud to have Christopher become part of the Chula Vista Police Department family," said Chief Kennedy.

In addition to the Purple Heart, Lawrence has received multiple military awards, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Combat Action Ribbon (Iraq), Iraq Campaign Medal with one campaign star, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

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