The Hero Project

09.11.13

Meet John Herbst, the NYPD’s First Casualty in Iraq

A true hero refuses to rest on his laurels. Jacob Siegel meets a New York cop and military hero determined to keep serving his country.
Video screenshot

John Herbst had been on the police force in New York for less than a year when he was deployed to Iraq in 2004. Not long into his tour, he led a successful counter-attack against an ambush on his unit which earned him a Bronze Star with Valor, the military’s fourth-highest combat award.

Just two weeks after that ambush, John’s team was patrolling on the notorious Route Irish outside Baghdad when his vehicle hit an IED and the ground blew up beneath him. Two members of his crew were killed in the attack. John was seriously wounded and medically evacuated back to the United States. He was the first New York City police officer injured in the war on terror, winning a few headlines and small news stories.

Incredibly, nine years later he is still at it; still a cop and a soldier, still taking responsibility for the safety of others. John’s service could have ended in 2001 when his initial enlistment in the army ended. He had another chance to leave in 2004, when he was wounded in Iraq, but he’s not looking for a way out. He loves his job as a cop and is intensely proud, though humble, about his military service.

In 2012, I served with John in Afghanistan. I know how much he loves his work because he tried persuading me to join the police force at least twice a day while we were overseas. I met up with him recently to talk about his service and ask him who his heroes are. You can watch him answer here.