View Full Version : Corpsman awarded Silver Star

06-12-06, 06:20 PM
June 12, 2006
Corpsman awarded Silver Star

By Philip Creed
Times staff writer

Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Juan Rubio had already made a name for himself when he volunteered to return to Iraq, this time with the 1st Marine Division’s Small Craft Company.

Rubio had already done a “greenside” tour during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, some of it spent in major combat operations around the city of Nasiriyah. He developed a reputation as a cool professional and a capable teacher — someone who could be relied on in battle.

But it would be his heroic and fearless actions on Jan. 1, 2005, that made “Doc” Rubio something of a legend. And he’s got a Silver Star — the Navy’s third-highest award for valor — to prove it.

That day, after surviving a deadly roadside bombing, Rubio saved the lives of two Marines in the midst of an intense ambush, coordinated their evacuation as the fight raged all around him and then spent every moment he could trying to save a third Marine.

He managed it all despite being wounded by both the bomb blast and small-arms fire. And he also did it while shooting off magazine after magazine from his own M16.

To the leathernecks with whom he served, Rubio is a Marine in sailor’s clothing.

“Doc Rubio … is a strict leader, compassionate corpsman and a tenacious warrior,” said Maj. Dan Wittnam, former commanding officer of the Small Craft Company. “He was always vigilant, never dropping his guard, and responded so quickly to adversity that it was as if he was omnipotent.

“I can think of no Marine, soldier or sailor I would rather have in my unit to ensure welfare and readiness of Marines for a fight.”

Rubio and the company were charged with patrolling the Euphrates River up and down Iraq. Confrontations with insurgents were commonplace — especially in the volatile Anbar province.

Arriving in September 2004, Rubio and the company were just in time to participate in the bloody November 2004 offensive to retake Fallujah.

Wittnam recalled when Rubio led the evacuation of five seriously injured Marines hit by a mortar round at close range, giving them morphine and caring for their wounds as the boat sped back to an aid station at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.

“He was completely calm,” Wittnam said, even during the return trip upriver when they had to fight their way though a 30-minute ambush.

The pace of action never really slowed. Rubio soon found himself in another huge firefight in Hit, just before Christmas.

Days later, the Marines found and destroyed weapons caches on the banks of the river, not far from Hadithah Dam. And on New Year’s Day — a holiday he won’t soon forget — Rubio and his teammates were back in the area.

It was combat as usual, it seemed. A few miles down river, the boats came under enemy fire. The Marines fought through the small ambush and headed back to the battalion aid station to drop off a wounded Marine. A ground combat element boarded the boats, and Rubio and the Marines got back on the water.

The boats quickly came under small-arms fire again. This time, however, the team spotted bloody drag marks on the shore — presumably left by a wounded insurgent — and they left the boats to try and track down the shooters.

Rubio, Lance Cpl. Brian Parrello, Capt. Jonathan Kuniholm and Gunnery Sgt. Brian Vinciguerra made up one part of the 20-man team. They came upon a wall, suspecting enemy fighters were lying in wait behind it. Kuniholm then spotted an oil can. He remembered a similar can had been used to mark a bomb just a week earlier.

Before word could be passed to get away, the bomb exploded.

Rubio was grabbing Parrello, the group’s radioman, to tell him to move when the bomb went off.

The force of the blast slammed Parrello into Rubio. Both men went flying, and Rubio slammed into a building, losing consciousness for roughly 30 seconds.

“When I came to, I felt burning sensations,” Rubio recalled. “I was hearing RPGs, AKs, M203s, RPKs, M16s — I knew we were in a firefight. I noticed dirt being kicked up around me.”

The insurgents had lured the Marines into a complex ambush.

“It wasn’t the most intense [firefight],” recalled Vinciguerra, who arrived in Iraq with Rubio and was a veteran of multiple battles. “[But] it was the most well-orchestrated, the most well-planned.”

Rubio saw that Parrello had been severely injured in the blast. Low-crawling to the young Marine, Rubio shot off three magazines from his M16 — though he has no memory of doing so; others later told him of his actions.

Rubio made it to Parrello, pulled him behind a wall and did what he could to stabilize the 19-year-old, who Rubio estimates absorbed 90 percent of the bomb’s blast.

Rubio told another Marine how to continue to treat Parrello, then went back into chaos to help Kuniholm, who was wounded.

“It was a massive volume of fire,” Vinciguerra said. “The insurgents pinned us down with RPKs and AK47 fire, and two RPGs were continually firing.”

Rubio said that as long as he could hear the sound of M16s, he knew his Marines were providing covering fire.

“I was able to think rationally about what I needed to do,” Rubio said. “I needed to make sure that the Marines around me were safe. Instincts kicked in.”

Kuniholm’s arm had nearly been blown off below the elbow and was bleeding heavily. Rubio wrapped the wound and kept the officer from going into shock. Once again, he instructed a Marine how to continue treatment, then went back into the fray.

“I realized gunny was hit and I went back,” Rubio said.

Vinciguerra had been wounded in the hand and arm by a rocket-propelled grenade. Rubio went to help his friend — who was rapidly losing blood — and treated that wound. The gunny has little doubt that Rubio saved his life.

“I’d like to tell him he’s my hero and without him I wouldn’t be standing here today,” Vinciguerra said.

To read more about Rubio and the rest of the battle, check out this week’s issue of Navy Times or Marine Corps Times.