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Rumsfeld Presents Bronze Star to Salvadoran Heroes

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SAN SALVADOR, Nov. 12, 2004 – Fifteen years ago today, Salvadoran Army 1st Sgt. Fredy Adolfo Castro was recovering from severe leg wounds received the previous day during the bloody civil war that threatened his country.

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld presents the Bronze Star Medal to a Salvadoran soldier Nov. 12 for heroism in Iraq. Photo by Master Sgt. James Bowman, USAF

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Today, Castro was among six Salvadoran soldiers honored by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for heroism demonstrated in another nation fighting an insurgency: Iraq.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pinned the Bronze Star Medal on six members of the Cuscatlan Battalion today for heroism under fire in Iraq that saved the lives of six Coalition Provisional Authority workers.

Rumsfeld praised of quick action of the soldiers during a March 5 incident near Najaf at a ceremony today in the Salvadoran officer training academy here, and again during a joint media briefing at the Defense Ministry with Salvadoran Defense Minister Gen. Otto Romero.

"Six Americans are alive today because of their prompt and decisive action," the secretary said. He called their actions "a story of courage and calm under fire" that reflects the professionalism of El Salvador's armed forces.

"They risked their lives so others might live," Rumsfeld said, adding that the United States will never forget their or their country's contributions in the war on terror.

U.S. Army Maj. Mario Arzeno, Army section chief at the U.S. embassy here, read the citation noting the Cuscatlan Battalion's heroism.

The troops, part of a 380-member Salvadoran contingent in Iraq conducting stability and support operations, were escorting a convoy of CPA workers when they were ambushed an insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.

Castro, a 12-year-veteran of the Salvadoran civil war, immediately sized up the situation and took charge of the scene. Without concern for his own safety, Castro directed suppressive fire and led the convoy through the kill zone.

The other Salvadoran soldiers escorting the convoy provided suppressive fire from the lead and chase vehicles and drove through the ambush site. Their actions are credited with saving the lives of all occupants of the convoy and ensuring that the convoy safety reached its destination.

Castro, 35, said the combat experienced he gained in his own country gave him the ability to react quickly and calmly under fire and to demonstrate the leadership skills needed during the March 5 incident.

"We are ready for these kinds of missions," he said. "We didn't thinkwe reacted to the situation. Our thought was on the important people under our charge and our mission to save their lives, to matter what."

He said he's thankful for the support the United States gave its country during its civil war and "motivated" to have been a part of the coalition effort in Iraq.

"I feel a lot of satisfaction, for me and for the armed forces in El Salvador," Staff Sgt. Carlos Escheverria Vides, another of the Bronze Star recipients, said of his role in Iraq.

"It's a very fulfilling mission that's been given to usan opportunity to demonstrate that we in the Salvadoran armed forjces have warrior roots."

In addition to Castro and Vides, other Salvadoran soldiers honored today were Staff Sgt. Victor Gonzalez Chanta, Staff Sgt. Luis Mejia Cideos, Cpl. Jose Daniel Oporto and Pvt. Juan Francisco Cordova Sanchez.

Also while in El Savador, Rumsfeld met with President Elias Antonio Saca and the Salvadoran joint chiefs of staff to discuss issues affecting the two countries. Rumsfeld said he expressed appreciation for El Salvador's contributions in the Iraq but did not discuss the possibility of a fourth rotation of Salvadoran troops in the country.

During the joint news conference, Rumsfeld emphasized the importance of the mission and reiterated that the United States will remain as long as necessary, "but not a day longer."

It's a tough mission, he acknowledged, but he said both the United States and El Salvador have learned from their own experiences that freedom doesn't come easy and without cost.

In the end, he said, "I think the outcome will be a positive one for Iraq and the region and the world."

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Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld

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Rumsfeld Honors Vets, Salvadoran Contributions to Terror War

Click photo for screen-resolution imageSalvadoran 1st Sgt. Fredy Adolfo Castro was among six Salvadoran soldiers awarded the Bronze Star Medal by Defense Secrteary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Nov. 12 for saving U.S. lives in Iraq. Photo by Donna Miles  
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