Some veterans may return from war in one piece, but just their bodies are in one piece. Emotionally, after the shock and horror they experience in wartime, they can be left broken into pieces. While love and support is important, sometimes it’s not even enough to help a veteran battle his personal demons back home. One veteran landed himself in jail, and not for the first time. The judge, a fellow veteran, did something incredibly unusual. He went to jail with the guy.Retired Army Sargent First Class Joe Serna of Fayetteville, North Carolina, was arrested for driving under the influence a few years ago. The veteran was out on probation and was not supposed to be drinking under any circumstances. Unfortunately, he lied for a urine test, which he failed. It was a violation of his parole.
Judge Lou Olivera, a Gulf War veteran, knew he had to do the right thing. He had to sentence Serna to jail as the law dictated. But the judge was worried about his fellow veteran.
Serna, who was a Green Beret, was sentenced to just one night, but it terrified him. During one of his three tours in Afghanistan, Serna was riding in a truck with other soldiers when disaster struck.
“We were following the creek and the road gave way. And the vehicle went into the creek,” he said to CBS News.
The men were trapped as the water continued to rise. It slowly got higher and higher but stopped at about his chin. It was a miracle but came with a tragedy.
“I lost my whole crew,” Serna says. “They were in the water with me. That tore me up. I couldn’t escape that truck. I stayed there until somebody saved me.”
Since then, Serna has been afraid of small, cramped places.
“I gave Joe a night in jail because he had to be held accountable,” the judge said, defending his sentence. “But I just felt I had to go with him.”
The judge went to the jail cell for the night with Serna to help him pull through. “We ate meatloaf and we talked about a lot of things,” the judge said.
“We talked about our families,” Serna said. “The walls didn’t exist anymore. He brought me back to North Carolina from being in a truck in Afghanistan.”
Serna is so thankful to Judge Olivera that he promises not to mess up anymore. He doesn’t blame the judge for sentencing him to jail for the night, and can’t thank him enough for helping him through it.
“He did his duty,” Serna tells PEOPLE. “He sentenced me. It was his job to hold me accountable. But what he did next…. it sounds like I’m making it up – and I’m not.”
“He is a judge, but that night, he was my battle buddy,” Serna says. “He knew what I was going through. As a warrior, he connected.”