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Andersen airman receives Bronze Medal for heroic acts during recent Iraq deployment

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- "This is a big deal...this is a big deal - a Bronze Star!" said Col. Michael Boera, 36th Wing commander, during a ceremony in which Tech. Sgt. Ruben M. Vazquez, 36th Medical Operations Squadron, was awarded a Bronze Star for his meritorious service as an independent duty medical technician and military advisor in Iraq from Nov. 13, 2005 to May 27, 2006.

A twelve hour notice was all Sergeant Vazquez received less than one year ago before flying out to train and enter the war zone.

He had no idea where he was going, who he would be working with or what he would be doing. He was just ready to go.

"Sergeant Vazquez is one of my top Airmen, especially in regards to this deployment," said Lt. Col. David Bobb, 36th MDOS commander. With only several hours to get out of town, "he never said, 'Why me? Why do I have to go? I don't have enough time.'...nothing like that. He's just a top notch person."

Sergeant Vazquez received training at Fort Carson, Colo., more training in Kuwait, and when he arrived in Baghdad, he received additional training on Improvised Explosive Devices, operations in theater, how to communicate with the Army, learning their system of ordering supplies and other things which he described as almost like joining the Army.

After all his training he traveled to various bases helping the Iraqis.

Sergeant Vazquez was assigned to a 12-man Military Transition Team, which is a small unit that is embedded with the Iraqis. MTT's mission was to teach the Iraqis their specialty, help them set up their own medical care for the Iraqi citizens, and troubleshoot events for them so they would be able to stand up on their own and take over their own battle space.

"He was right at the point of contact on the current War on Terrorism," said Col. Walter Cayce, 36th MDG commander. "He was on the ground in Iraq with the local nationals where the rubber meets the road, as far as this battle is being won. He was in one of the most dangerous areas of the war contributing greatly to the unit's mission and helping to get the job done. Many Air Force medics are directly supporting the larger mission in Iraq with the Army."

Sergeant Vazquez was embedded with an all-Army unit. There was only one other Air Force personnel on his team - a logistics specialist, Maj. Rick Hughes, stationed at Moody AFB, Ga. 

"My job was supposed to be base life support, making sure the base runs so the warfighters can go and take the fight to the enemy," said Sergeant Vazquez. "We took care of the water, power, food, maintenance, equipment, generators and fuel. I worked with the contractors who were providing all the support, making sure they were providing services that the minister of defense was paying for, evaluating goods and services as they arrived, making sure the Iraqi were getting everything they needed, and troubleshooting issues as they arouse - broken pipes, broken generators, broken trucks, maintenance workers not showing up or maintenance workers getting killed."

On top of all that, Sergeant Vazquez served as the unit's only medic. He was also an advisor to the division's surgeon, which was an Iraqi colonel.

"I would help him with his processes and give him guidance on how the U.S. medical system worked out issues," said Sergeant Vazquez.

He said it was a huge challenge to work with the Iraqis because they had a different mindset and culture. The medical system, he explained, was in such dire need of new systems and support. Issues he worked on with the colonel made big impacts and of which the effects were seen immediately.

"I filled a lot of roles that wasn't typical for an Air Force medic," he said. "I was one of the main convoy drivers about 99 percent of the time."

When they would go on missions to pick up Army personnel in different locations, Sergeant Vazquez said he really liked the reaction their faces when they saw Air Force stripes in the driver's seat.

"It was like, 'What's an Air Force person doing in the driver's seat?'" he said.

But when they found out he was a medic, they were glad.

"For them (the U.S. Army) to recognize the magic he brought to the field for them is a significant feat," said Colonel Boera. "It's a huge deal.

"What he did during this AEF deployment...is reflective of what he's done for the U.S. Air Force day in and day out. This great Airman stayed the course and answered the call of duty for the mission of our U.S. military, the mission of our U.S. Air Force and he did it well."