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Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth Presents the Army Astronaut Device to Colonel Frank Rubio at the Pentagon

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, and welcome to the presentation of the Senior Aviator Badge with Astronaut Device to Colonel Francisco "Frank" Rubio. Our host for today's ceremony is the secretary of the Army, the Honorable Christine E. Wormuth.

Ladies and gentlemen, please stand for the arrival of the official party.

Please be seated. Ladies and gentlemen, Secretary Wormuth.


SECRETARY OF THE ARMY CHRISTINE WORMUTH: Good afternoon, everyone. It is great to see you all. Thank you so much for joining us here today to recognize Colonel Frank Rubio for his truly extraordinary accomplishment. It's my pleasure to present Frank with the Army Astronaut Device today, one of the most rarely-earned qualifications across the Army. In fact, there are only two other active-duty Army soldiers who have this device today.

As I travel around and talk to different audiences, I often highlight all of the opportunities and possibilities that the Army offers. Colonel Rubio is a stellar example of someone who has made the absolute most of every opportunity.

What started as a way to pay for college turned into quite an adventure. From the time he entered West Point as a cadet, Frank has taken advantage of every opportunity the Army has put in front of him. Whether that was joining the Black Knights Parachute Team, earning his major in international relations or learning how to fly Black Hawk helicopters, he gained the education and training that set the foundation for the rest of his career.

As he deployed to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, logging over 600 combat flight hours, Colonel Rubio developed his leadership, his teambuilding skills and his resilience.

But his adventure didn't end there, as he applied for medical school through the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences and earned his doctorate of medicine. As a physician, he brought these skills back to the Army, working in Army hospitals, clinics and the 10th Special Forces Group. In between school, training and deployments, he married his high school sweetheart, Deborah, and they together raised four children. And then finally, in 2017, he was presented with the chance to become an astronaut.

I will just say, clearly, we have an underachiever on our hands here.


In all seriousness, Colonel Rubio has a powerful U.S. Army story to tell: how his experiences in the Army developed him into the leader he is today; how he has managed to maintain strong relationships with his family that can weather deployments everywhere on Earth, as well as in space; how he learned to adapt to unexpected changes to the mission, whether as an aviator or an astronaut, when he was aboard the International Space Station; how he built and relied on the trust he had with his teammates, whether in operational theaters here on Earth or when they were thousands of miles away at the Mission Control Center.

Few in the Army have such an unusual story, but many soldiers, I think, would tell you that like Frank, the Army enabled them to be all they could be.

Colonel Rubio, you are a stellar example of the Army's core values and what it means to lead a life of service. You inspired audiences around the world as you orbited the Earth for 371 days, and now back on Earth, you continue to inspire others as you share your experience with the public.

Most Americans would probably be surprised to learn that you, as an astronaut, are an Army officer, but in fact, the Army has worked closely with NASA to advance space exploration since the beginning of the U.S. Space Program. It was a U.S. Army rocket that carried the first American astronaut into space, and the Army remains at the forefront of our nation's ability to explore and defend against threats in space.

Today, the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command works tirelessly to advance the nation's interests by integrating space capabilities into military operations, countering space-based threats to our country and explore -- supporting the space exploration programs -- that's a mouthful -- through the Army astronaut detachment. Since 1978, our partnership with NASA has produced 19 Army astronauts. These uniquely-skilled and extremely-qualified people represent the very best of our talented officers and warrant officers in the Army.

As we humans explore further into space and NASA returns to the moon and sets its sites beyond the moon to Mars, the Army will continue to play an important role in the exploration of space long into the future, and we will build on the research that Colonel Rubio did on the International Space Station for 371 record-setting days. Few humans have gone into space, and even fewer have conducted a spacewalk, much less three, or spent anywhere close to the amount of time that Frank Rubio has spent orbiting the Earth, so it's truly a privilege to have him representing the Army and the United States.

Frank, you've inspired so many people around the country and around the world. It's my pleasure to present you today with the Astronaut Device, which is fittingly going to go on your Army Aviators Wings, wings that reflect over 1,100 hours of flight time here on Earth and 371 days in space. So please join me here on stage, and I will present you with the Army Astronaut Device.


STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated during the presentation.

Colonel Francisco Rubio is been presented one of the least-awarded badges in the United States military, the Senior Aviator Badge with Astronaut Device, also known as the United States Astronaut Badge, for successful completion of an operational mission in space.

As a member of the expedition's 68 crew, Colonel Rubio and his team launched on 21 September 2022 on the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station and landed on 27 September 2023, breaking the record of the longest single-duration spaceflight for a United States astronaut with a mission duration of 371 days.

During the mission, Colonel Rubio traveled 157,412,306 statue (sic) miles and saw the arrival of 15 visiting vehicles to the space station. Colonel Rubio also conducted three spacewalks totaling 21 hours, 24 minutes of total spacewalking time. Colonel Rubio's accomplishments speak to his outstanding devotion to duty and a testament of his commitment to the Army and the nation.


Secretary Wormuth will present Colonel Rubio with a Star Note and coin.


STAFF: Thank you, Secretary Wormuth.

COLONEL FRANK RUBIO: Thanks so much for (inaudible).

MS. WORMUTH: My pleasure.

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, Colonel Frank Rubio.


COL. RUBIO: Madam Secretary, Lieutenant General Gainey, Mrs. Gainey, Sergeant Major Foley, Major General Rafferty, thank you guys for your team for hosting us today. This has been amazing, and ma'am, thank you for hosting us here at the Pentagon.

What an incredible honor it is to represent the Army, and honestly, the biggest honor for me out of this badge is the fact that to me, it's the ultimate team badge. You absolutely cannot get to space on your own. And so no matter how talented you are, no matter what you've done in your background, it takes a team of thousands to get you to space.

And so first and foremost, I'd like to Team Rubio, to my wife, Deborah, my four kids, Lydia, Andrew, Laura and (Alissa ?). They're the reason that I was able to do this and that I've been able to really have my entire career. And so without them and the support that I get from them, none of this would be possible.

Also to the NASA team, the team of flight directors, flight controllers, the trainers who put thousands of hours into making sure that we're ready and that when we head to this crazy thing called space, we feel perfectly at home and perfectly natural because they've trained us so well. Incredibly grateful for that team and for what they've contributed to human spaceflight, and it's pretty amazing to think that we've had humans in space for 23 continuous years, and it's really because of that team.

And lastly, to my Army team, who really is the foundation of who I am as a person, the people who surrounded me and mentored me, and it's so awesome that I'm actually -- I have classmates here today, with Travis, Patrick, Sammy, Pete. Thank you guys so much for being here. It means the world to me. I can't believe we started this adventure together way too long ago now.


And to look around and see what you guys have done, what our classmates have done is incredible, and that's just what this organization represents. They take young men and women and they shape us and mold us, and then eventually, we become leaders of our nation, which is pretty incredible. And what a beautiful, wonderful nation we do get to lead and represent.

And to the soldiers here, I know that it sounds like a lot of stuff. What -- what this resume doesn't mention is all the failures, all the times that people have had to pick me up and all the times that I've had to have grace, that my commander often, or sergeant major pulled me aside and -- and just shown me grace, because you go out there and you do a lot of great things, and you screw up a lot of great things, but they let you try again, and that's one of the -- the best things about our organization.

So good luck. Someday, you're going to be old and you're going to do even --


-- bigger and better things, and it's going to be awesome to see what you guys do.

So thank you all for making the time. Again, it's a huge honor for me to represent our Army team and to be a part of -- of this family. So thank you all for being here.

STAFF: Thank you, Colonel Rubio.

Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's ceremony. Please stand for the departure of the official party.


COLONEL ROGER M. CABINESS II: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I am Colonel Roger Cabiness, Director of Army Media Relations Division. This afternoon, Army astronaut Colonel Frank Rubio will take a few questions from members of the media.

Our purpose is to honor Colonel Rubio and to educate the public on the benefits and possibilities of Army service through recognition of Colonel Rubio's record-breaking human space flight mission. As -- as previously mentioned, Colonel Rubio returned September 27th, 2023, after spending 371 days on the International Space Station. He holds the record for the longest space flight for an American astronaut.

Colonel Rubio graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1998 and earned a Doctor of Medicine from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Science -- Sciences in 2010. Prior to attending medical school, he served as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter pilot and flew more than 1,100 hours, including more than 600 hours of combat in imminent danger time during deployments to Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Dr. Rubio is a board-certified family physician and flight surgeon. He was serving in the 10th Special Forces Group at Fort Carson when he was selected by NASA to join the -- when he was selected by NASA to join the 2017 astronaut candidate class.

All comments made today are on the record. Please limit yourself to one question and one follow-up to permit others an opportunity to ask questions as well.

With that, we'll open it up for questions. We'll start in the room. Courtney from NBC?

Courtney Kube, NBC Q: Hey, Colonel, congratulations. Courtney Kube with NBC News. So what -- I guess what's next for you? I mean, like, are you going to go back in space again? Is that possible or are you -- you just going to -- just go be a doctor, I guess, or --


-- I guess what's -- what's next?

COL. RUBIO: Sure, yeah. Hey, Courtney, thank you so much for that question. Yeah, so I -- my plan is to stay with NASA and continue to contribute to the mission, you're right. So the amazing thing is that we've had humans in space for 24 continuous years now, and hopefully we're going to keep that going for at least the next decade or so.

And so, you know, after we come back and we rehabilitate, we go back into the office and then we help support the next mission, just like the -- in the Army essentially -- you know, after you finish your command, you go into the staff and you help the mission to continue, and that's the goal.

Hopefully I'll get to fly again. You know, part of that's going to be determined by my health, right? So far, so good, but you never know. You can't take that for granted. And so you have to be able to pass your flight physical, and assuming that I'm able to stay in the shape that I need to to do that, I hope to contribute to the mission, both as support and flying again. Yeah.

COL. CABINESS: Luis Martinez?

Luis Martinez, ABC Q: Hi. Luis Martinez with ABC News. Given the amount of time that you've spent in space -- and we've seen studies before with the Kelly brothers -- how -- are -- are there follow through medical examinations that you're going through or are you part of a study on seeing, again, the impact of space on the human body?

COL. RUBIO: Yeah, great question, Luis, cause it is unfortunately a very small number of us that have been to space. The good thing is, you know, after Scott, Christina Koch, Mark Vande Hai, myself, have all been near or just past a year in space. And so the number is growing.

And yeah, we come back and they do just about every single study you can imagine on us because the medical team, the science team is so interested in what happens to the human body up there, and the -- the N, or the population that's experienced that is so small.

So they do. Unfortunately, the reality is, for anything medical, right, on such a small number, you can't generalize what the results are. And so we'll continue to study. We'll continue to have people living up there for that long. And after a while, we'll have enough data to be able to say, "Okay, this is, in general, how the human body responds in space."

Luis Martinez, ABC Q: And, personally, what have you experienced that you saw that was different, or maybe even something (inaudible)?

COL. RUBIO: Yeah, no, no, it's -- it's --

COL. CABINESS: (inaudible)


COL. RUBIO: You know, it's actually been a really good life lesson that -- to reinforce certain things, as far as, if you put in the work, the results are pretty good. And so I came back, actually did really well. And it's not because of me personally; it's just the -- the training and exercise team that helps us plan our exercise while we're up there, they have this phenomenal protocol. And if you follow it pretty closely, I did really well. And I think that was because of what the team put together.

So, like -- like in life, right, if you put in the work, generally the results are going to be okay.

COL. CABINESS: Matt Adams, Stars and Stripes?

Matt Adams, Stars and Stripes Q: Thanks, Colonel.

Can you talk, a little bit, about why you wanted to do this? What made you want to be with NASA?

And can you talk, a little bit, about the mission itself, what -- what exactly --


Q: -- you were doing --

COL. RUBIO: Yeah, yeah, no --

Q: -- over a year there?

COL. RUBIO: I appreciate that question, Matt. You know, I think there's -- there's not two kinds of astronaut, but generally you've wanted to be an astronaut since you were a kid, and that's, kind of, your dream -- or, like me, you, kind of, come to find about the mission, you know, later on in life.

And when you -- when you do, and when you figure out what the team is doing, you, kind of, fall in love with the idea of, "Hey, I get to go out and explore space, do something really challenging and hard and see if I can contribute to that mission." And you get to be part of something, which in this case is the NASA team, that is bigger than yourself, right, so both NASA, our nation.

And it's few things where you can say, "Hey, my job helps represent humanity." That's a pretty powerful thing to be a part of. And so it's just, kind of, an honor to -- to do it. I guess that is why I want to -- right, like it is just such a -- an incredible experience. And to be able to inspire the next generation, contribute to science and technology that we're developing that's going to help humanity in ways that we probably can't even imagine right now, it's -- it's a neat thing.

Matt Adams, Stars and Stripes Q: And were there -- Army and NASA, were there things from your Army days that you were able to incorporate with NASA, or what --


Matt Adams, Stars and Stripes Q: -- was there a correlation there?

COL. RUBIO: Everything, you know, really. Probably the most important things are teamwork, right? And that's something we live every single day in the Army of, individually, we absolutely have incredibly talented people, but as a team, you can do so much more. And so, if you learn to work as a team, you learn to help the other people on your team, how to make them better, how to help them to thrive, and you can bring that to really any -- any aspect of life but certainly to space flight.

So that -- that's probably the number one thing. Also, learning to do hard things, knowing that you're going to be a little bit scared because all human beings are a little bit scared when you do really hard things, but trusting in your training, trust in your equipment, and you do them anyways because -- because you do trust those things.

And, you know, the -- the Army, for me, at least, provided so many opportunities to have that experience, whether it was jump out of a plane -- you know, the first time that you hover a helicopter can be a pretty scary experience. The first time you fly in combat -- I mean, just, it's almost innumerable, the number of events where I had butterflies in my stomach, was a little nervous, but you go out and you do them anyways, and then you're like, "Oh, it's going to be okay."

And so, honestly, even something as unique as being in space, it was almost the exact same feeling, where you're a little bit nervous, but you trust in your training; you go out and do it; and, yeah, it went really well.


COL. CABINESS: I think we have someone on the line, on here.


COL. CABINESS: Carla Babb, Voice of America, are you on?

Carla Babb, Voice of America Q: I am on. Yes, thank you very much. Hi, Colonel. Thank you for doing this. I just wanted to find out, you know, what was your most memorable moment while you were in space?

And then I have a quick follow-up, if I may.

COL. RUBIO: Hey, Carla. Yeah, absolutely. So I'll answer the first question. And, you know, that's a tough one because I've had a chance to answer this question before, and I say it's -- it's, kind of, like asking who's your favorite kid. And there's -- there's no right answer to that, because there are so many things that were so memorable.

Launch, you know, just getting on a rocket and being on top of 300 tons of rocket fuel is -- is a pretty incredible feeling; the space walks and the fact that you're out in space in a very small, personal-sized space vehicle is -- is pretty incredible; and then re-entry, where you essentially become a meteorite, right, and you have a plasma layer a couple of inches below you because of the heat that's generated.

All those things were awesome. So to pick a favorite out of those, I don't know that I could do that, but those are probably the biggest highlights.

But I'll tell you one of the biggest things that nobody really thinks about, for me, I got to fly with 28 other people in space. And given that there's only been a little over 600 humans that have ever been to space, to fly with that many and get to know them on a personal level up there, that was a pretty unique experience and something that I'll always treasure.

Carla Babb, Voice of America Q: Thank you for that, Colonel. I appreciate that. And my last question, because Voice of America reaches a lot of the Latin American audience, and I notice that your parents are Salvadoran and your mother lives in El Salvador, I'm assuming that you are the son of immigrants.

Can you just talk, a little bit, about how that has shaped who you are today and helped shape who you've become?

COL. RUBIO: Yeah, no, absolutely. And you're right. Both my -- my mother and father are from El Salvador. And my mom and I, you know -- yeah, basically it was my mom and I living here in the U.S., and, you know, I think it is the American dream. It really represents the fact that we have so many opportunities. And, again, I really value the fact that it's the opportunity that's given, not the results. And I think, if you put in the hard work, if you dedicate yourself and you sacrifice, really almost anything is possible.

And, you know, it's not all going to be positive. You'll have some negative things along the path. But in general, I -- you know, I've had the pleasure of both working and living in many parts of the world at this time, and I always come back to how amazing our nation really is. And it just makes you so grateful to -- to live where we are.

Carla Babb, Voice of America: Thanks, Colonel.

COL. RUBIO: Thank you.

COL. CABINESS: We've got time for one more here. David Vergun,

David Vergun, Q: Did you have any -- Dave Vergun, Did you have any interactions with the cosmonauts up there? And did you learn any Russian? 

I guess there's topics you avoided, like, maybe, Ukraine?

COL. RUBIO: Yeah, no, David --


And I actually flew with the Marines, so I like (your ID ?). (Nicole's ?) a phenomenal astronaut. So, actually, yeah, I launched with cosmonauts. And I -- you know, our mission was the first one to essentially re-establish that flying together mission after -- after we had broken off relations for a little bit, as far as flying together.

And to me that was a great honor. Honestly, the space station is designed in a way that we cannot fly without each other, like it has to -- you know, we -- they have to have our navigation system; we have to have the propulsion system. It's connected. It can't be taken apart. And it's designed that way for a reason.

And so to be able to re-establish that relationship and train there was a huge honor for me. And, you know, ultimately you just focus on the mission, is the reality. And -- and my life depended on both Sergey and Dmitri's skills and their life depended on my skills. And that's what you focus on. And the reality is, at the time we thought we were going to live together for six months. It turned out to be a year. But -- but you can't have any distractions to the fact that you have to, all of you, be on your A game that entire time to make the mission happen.

And so that's what you focus on. They've become really close friends. They have beautiful families. They've gotten to know my family. And you know, it's not that we avoid the topic, but ultimately, I think if you're focused on the mission and you're focused on the people you love and why you're doing the mission, I think that's enough, and then we were able to have a very successful mission.

David Vergun, Yeah, great. Colonel Rubio, thank you for your time.

COL. RUBIO: (inaudible).

COL Cabiness: This is going to conclude our press engagement. I know you have a pretty tight schedule, so (inaudible) --

COL. RUBIO: Yeah, no, no. Thank you all for making the time. Appreciate it.

COL Cabiness: Thank you. (Inaudible).