The judge knew that Sgt. Joseph Serna had been through a lot.
The former Special Forces soldier did four combat tours in Afghanistan over a nearly two-decades-long career with the U.S. Army. Through those years, the Fayetteville Observer reported, Serna was almost killed three times: once, by a roadside bomb, then again by a suicide bomber.
During a tour in 2008, Serna and three other soldiers were driving down a narrow dirt road in Kandahar when their armored truck toppled into a canal, the Associated Press reported. As water filled the vehicle, Serna struggled to escape.
It was his fellow soldier, Sgt. James Treber, who saved him.
"I felt a hand come down and unfasten my seat belt and release my body armor," Serna recalled to the AP. "Sgt. Treber picked me up and moved me to a small pocket of air. He knew there was not enough room for both of us to breathe so he went under water to find another pocket of air."
Treber died from the accident, but Serna survived. He was the only one who did.
While Serna's years in combat earned him three Purple Hearts and other military accolades, like many combat vets, he's been unable to leave the battlefield behind him. Since returning to the U.S., the decorated Green Beret has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, WTVD reported, and been charged with driving under the influence.
He entered the veteran's treatment court program in Cumberland County, N.C., over which state District Court Judge Lou Olivera presides.
Serna has fought to stay sober, appearing before Olivera 25 times to have his progress reviewed. He confessed to Olivera that he lied about a recent urine test last week, according to WRAL.