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U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ruben Vazquez
Medic Works With Iraqi Army
By U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Angelique Smythe
36th Wing Public Affairs
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam, Aug. 17, 2006 — "This is a big deal ... this is a big deal ... a Bronze Star!" said U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Boera, 36th Wing commander.

He was presiding over a ceremony in which U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ruben Vazquez of the 36th Medical Operations Squadron was awarded a Bronze Star for his service as an independent duty medical technician and military adviser in Iraq from November 2005 to May 2006.

A 12-hour notice was all Vazquez received less than a 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 U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. David Bobb, commander of 36th Medical Operations Squadron.

"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."

Vazquez received training at Fort Carson, Colo., while en route to Southwest Asia, and then again when he arrived in Baghdad.

He learned about improvised explosive devices, operations in theater, how to communicate with the Army, learning their system of ordering supplies and other things he said were almost like joining the Army.

After his training he traveled to various bases helping Iraqis.

Vazquez was assigned to a 12-man military transition team, or MTT, which is a small unit embedded with Iraqis.

The MTT's mission is to teach Iraqis their specialties, help them set up their own medical care for Iraqi citizens, and troubleshoot events for them so they will be able to take over their own operations.

"He was right at the point of contact on the war on terrorism," said U.S. Air Force Col. Walter Cayce, commander of the 36th Medical Group. "He was on the ground in Iraq with local nationals where the rubber meets the road.”

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,” Cayce emphasized. “Many Air Force medics are directly supporting the larger mission in Iraq with the Army."

Vazquez was embedded with an all-Army unit. There was only one other Air Force person on his team, a logistics specialist, Maj. Rick Hughes, from Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

"My job was supposed to be base life support, making sure the base runs so the warfighters can take the fight to the enemy," Vazquez said. "We took care of the water, power, food, maintenance, equipment, generators and fuel.”

“I worked with 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 Iraqis were getting everything they needed, and troubleshooting issues as they arose: broken pipes, generators and trucks, and maintenance workers not showing up," he said.

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

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

He said it was a challenge to work with the Iraqis because they had a different mindset and culture. The medical system, he noted, was in dire need of new systems and support.

"I filled a lot of roles that wasn't typical for an Air Force medic," he said.

When the team would go on missions to pick up soldiers, Vazquez said he enjoyed the reaction on 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 (the U.S. Army) to recognize the magic he brought to the field for them is a significant feat," Boera said. "It's a huge deal."

Last Updated:
08/17/2006, Eastern Daylight Time
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