View Full Version : He's A Silver Star Of A Sailor

03-03-07, 06:03 AM
He's A Silver Star Of A Sailor

Jed Graham
Fri Mar 2, 7:00 PM ET

U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Juan Rubio has a knack for finding people who need his help.

He was stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland on 9/11 and rushed to aid those injured in the attack on the Pentagon.

He then set sail on the USS Comfort hospital ship with this destination: ground zero in New York City.

And when President Bush made the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein -- "to take care of this tyrant," as Rubio put it -- the sailor raised his hand for the mission.

"I really have a passion for taking care of people," Rubio, 33, said in an interview from Corpus Christi, Texas, where he is stationed.

"I knew that 90% of the Marines going into combat were young men, and I felt that with my experience and my loyalty that I could help bring those men home."

In two tours of duty in Iraq, Rubio made sure dozens of wounded Marines got home safely.

His heroism earned him the Silver Star, one of the nation's highest awards for gallantry in combat.

"Your actions saved lives and you have set an example for future corpsmen and Marines to emulate," Maj. Gen. R.F. Natonski wrote in a letter endorsing Rubio's medal. "Your service is coveted by each and every Marine in the 1st Marine Division."

Rubio doesn't consider himself a hero. The real heroes, he says, are the family members at home, and especially the children who pray for their moms and dads to return from the war on terror's combat zones.

See The World

Just before Rubio joined the Navy, he was 26 and married with two kids, a mortgage, two cars and a lot of bills. Living in his hometown of San Angelo, Texas, he was struggling to make ends meet as an emergency room technician and hoping to go back to school.

His wife suggested he go see a Navy recruiter. Three days later he was on his way to boot camp. Three years later he was in the Iraq War.

His nine months in Iraq in 2003 were "rocky," Rubio said. He was shot at for the first time, and his unit saw major combat around the city of Nasiriyah. He talked of "the shock I saw the first time I was over there, seeing the gore of it."

When Rubio volunteered for a second tour in 2004, he knew what he was getting into.

The team he wanted to join was the 1st Marine Division's Small Craft Company, which was patrolling the Euphrates River near Fallujah, at the time one of the fiercest battlegrounds in Iraq.

"Everybody saw it on the news," Rubio said. "I knew there was a lot of stuff acting up around Fallujah."

But Rubio was excited about being part of the mission.

Five higher-ranking corpsmen also volunteered for the job, but the commanding officer, Maj. Dan Wittnam, didn't consider anyone but Rubio, who had served under him in 2003.

"Doc Rubio is a strict leader, compassionate corpsman and a tenacious warrior," Wittnam told the Marine Corps Times. "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's task was to build a medical evacuation team that could operate in the heat of battle. Over eight months, Rubio trained 18 Marines to be combat lifesavers.

To make sure his people were prepared, he cracked down.

Only two people on the team had war experience, and "they didn't see it as reality," Rubio said. "I trained my guys hard. I had to be tough. I had to be rough."

That training proved critical on too many occasions, but never more so than on Jan. 1, 2005.

When the Marine company's small crafts came under fire, the team went ashore and tried to track down the enemy. An improvised explosive device went off, sending Rubio flying into a building and briefly knocking him unconscious.

As he came to in the midst of a firefight, bleeding profusely with shrapnel in both legs and his elbow, Rubio didn't hesitate.

Seeing that Lance Cpl. Brian Parrello, who had taken most of the shrapnel from the explosion, was badly wounded, Rubio "dashed from his position and began rendering first aid," Wittnam wrote.

The Silver Star citation says Rubio low-crawled across open terrain, exposing himself to enemy fire to provide triage.

After doing what he could to stabilize Parrello, Rubio instructed another team member to continue to treat the wounded Marine.

Pinned down by enemy fire, Rubio again risked his life to reach Capt. Jonathan Kuniholm, whose arm had nearly been blown off below the elbow.

Rubio says he could focus solely on taking care of his men because he trusted his men.

The sound of M-16 fire let him know that his "brothers" were providing cover.

In presenting the medal, Rear Adm. Thomas Cullison spoke about the bond that Navy corpsmen share with Marines. "When we serve with the Marines and the Marines are with us, it's a relationship that you can find nowhere else," Cullison said. "The acceptance between these two groups is like no other. The responsibility that we put on our young corpsmen in battle to perform and to save lives is incredible."

After treating Kuniholm and putting him in the care of another Marine, Rubio went to the aid of a third team member, Gunnery Sgt. Brian Vinciguerra, who suffered severe arm wounds from a rocket-propelled grenade.

Rubio, who also received a Purple Heart, had shrapnel deeply embedded in his right leg and was told he had to go home to recover. But with three months left in his tour, Rubio wanted to know if he could live with the shrapnel in his body.

After he was told he'd be OK but would feel the pain, Rubio sounded off: "Bandage me up and send me back to my platoon."

The Pain

More than two years later, Rubio still feels the shrapnel, especially when it's cold. He no longer runs with his old alacrity.

He also has scars of a different sort from his two tours of duty.

Rubio was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after suffering nightmares and having a hard time making the transition back home. Few environments are full of the stress he operated in.

"Eighty percent of our time was outside the wire, in the elements," Rubio said.

That means no beds, water-bottle baths and constant exposure to a vicious enemy.

Rather than let his difficulties hold him back, Rubio wants to make the most of them and do his part in "the mission at home."

He believes his "ability to overcome them and accept them" will enable him to help the men and women coming home who face difficulties readjusting but may be reluctant to talk about it.