Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Amilcar Rodriguez recieved the Silver Star in a June ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., for heroism while deployed to Afghanistan. (MARSOC photo)
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With just a week left in their combat tour in Afghanistan, the joint special operations team left base on a critical mission to recover two fallen soldiers who drowned several days earlier.
But 10 minutes after heading out for that Nov. 6, 2009, mission, Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Amilcar Rodriguez and the rest of the unit — made up of members of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Army Special Forces and Afghan army commandos — came under heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire. The risky daytime mission had quickly changed to one of survival as they battled Taliban fighters in Bala Murghab, a village in Badghis province known for its heavy insurgent activity. Rodriguez, an experienced combat corpsman with several war deployments, played a critical role, joining in the heavy fighting and saving lives.
Two years later, during a June 24 ceremony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., the Navy and Marine Corps honored the heroics of Rodriguez and Sgt. Eric Walker, a member of MARSOC, in that battle by bestowing each with the Silver Star. Rodriguez is credited for his "decisive, aggressive action," states the award citation, approved in March by Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos.
Walker declined to speak with Marine Corps Times.
In endorsing the corpsman's award, MARSOC commander Maj. Gen. Paul Lefebvre wrote: "Words escape me. Your commitment and personal example stand with the giants of the Corps and Navy."
Rodriguez, who began his Navy career in 1998 with tours aboard the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, became a special amphibious reconnaissance corpsman in 2004 with Lejeune's 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion. In 2009, he deployed to Afghanistan as corpsman and adviser with Fox Company, 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, during a combat tour that included training and operations with Afghan commandos and multiple combat actions.
On the November 2009 mission, troops found themselves embroiled in a constant, hectic battle. Rodriguez and the joint team led the Afghans against the Taliban forces in the village. The corpsman, carrying an M249 squad automatic weapon, took out multiple fighters.
At one point, while setting up an overwatch position on a rooftop with the Afghans, Rodriguez heard one of the Marines yell, "Corpsman up!" An enemy sniper had trained a shot on the Marine and two Afghan commandos. Rodriguez quickly realized the men were vulnerable on the flat rooftop.
Rodriguez, equipped with his SAW, located the sniper position in a building and pulled the trigger, emptying the 200-round magazine and killing the two-man enemy team. While fighting ensued all around, Rodriguez dashed over to a wounded staff sergeant and quickly began to treat his leg wound and drag him to cover.
But suddenly the corpsman felt shocks of pain.
Three successive rounds, likely from a machine gun, struck Rodriguez. One round punctured his chest, cutting into one lung, and another sliced into his right arm. Rodriguez, in an interview with Marine Corps Times, recalled the staff sergeant "saw my neck explode" from one of the rounds. Although wounded himself, the Marine grabbed bandages to stem Rodriguez's bleeding as the corpsman tried to get both of them to safety.
At the time, Rodriguez couldn't see his right arm, and he couldn't feel it. He quickly assumed it had been blown off in the fighting.
Rodriguez was undeterred. "I was prepared for life without my arm," he said.
Just then, another Marine ran onto the rooftop and pulled Rodriguez toward a stairway. That's when he realized that his arm was still intact, although it wasn't functioning and he couldn't feel anything. Another sergeant trailed them and brought the wounded staff sergeant off the rooftop to safety, and a spec ops medic team worked on their wounds. The young soldiers were flustered, Rodriguez said, so he talked them through the steps and helped calm them down. "It was their first combat experience," he said.
Rodriguez and several wounded men eventually were evacuated.
The fallen soldiers, members of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, who were swept away on the Morghab River during a resupply mission, were later recovered and brought home.
After several surgeries and therapy, Rodriguez regained sensation and motion in his arm.
"It's good to be alive," Rodriguez said.
Last year, his wife gave birth to their son Christian. These days, Rodriguez works as a trauma instructor at the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., where Navy corpsmen receive advanced combat medical training along with Navy SEALs, recon Marines, Army Rangers and Green Berets.
Rodriguez, who in 2009 was named the MARSOC Medic of the Year, admits some indifference in hearing about being approved for the Silver Star, the nation's third-highest award for combat valor.
But he said he was excited to see some of his war buddies and catch up on how everyone's doing. "Anyone else would have done the same in the situation," he said.