A Lodi Army National Guard member who grew up in Lodi is part of a seven-man artillery team named the "Top Gun of the Battalion" in a competition against a Southern California team.
Private 1st Class Joseph De Anda Sr., 46, received three Army coins for his efforts as his squad, known as Alpha, beat a Southern California National Guard team more than a week ago at Camp Roberts, near Paso Robles. De Anda's team scored 697 points out of a possible 700 more than a week ago to be named Top Gun.
A very excited De Anda, visiting his grandmother in Galt on Sunday, excitedly talked about three special coins he earned, one a "Freedom Defenders for Excellence" coin and two for "excellence in performance."
As a National Guardsman, De Anda serves one weekend a month on guard duty and two weeks of training during the year. It was during the two-week training period this month that he competed against the rival team.
De Anda's duty was to be "powder monkey," where he handed his teammates fuses and gunpowder for a gun he described as an M-119 that hadn't been fired in California in more than 50 years. His teammates in last week's competition came from Stockton, Sacramento and Walnut Creek, as well as Lodi.
De Anda's group, trained to use Howitzers in Iraq, had to learn how to use the M-119, a new weapon for them. Despite the group's inexperience with the gun, De Anda's squad was named "Top Gun" because they used the new weapon more quickly and safely than the their opponents.
"We were really the underdogs," De Anda said.
The unit was led by Sgts. 1st Class Chris Somera and Thomas Lane, of Lodi, and Staff Sgt. Ernesto Buena Vista, of Stockton.
De Anda's unit was deployed in Iraq for nine months, returning home on April 23, 2008. And he's waiting for word that he's headed for Afghanistan, where he expects to serve a year.
De Anda was born in San Francisco. He moved to Galt when he was 12 and to Lodi at age 13. He attended Woodbridge Middle School and graduated from Lodi High School in 1981. He enlisted in the U.S. Army two years later, and was in and out of the Army five times before deciding to make it a career.
De Anda said he's glad he joined the Army. He re-enlisted for six more years in 2008 and will be due for retirement in 2014.
Meanwhile, De Anda spent Father's Day visiting his wife, Tami, and three children, knowing it will be a long time before they see him again.
"I was getting $1,002 every Friday (while stationed in Iraq)," De Anda said. "You can't get that working in Lodi."
As for why he opted for a trip to Afghanistan, De Anda pointed to the American flag on his shoulder and said, "That keeps me going."