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A Hawaii soldier receives the Army’s highest peacetime honor for valor

A photo of military boots during the deployment ceremony for the Alabama Army National Guard 128th Military Police Company leaving for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Bob Gathany/HVT/TNS)

A Hawaii soldier received the Army’s highest award for courage off the battlefield Wednesday at a ceremony in Schofield Barracks’ historic Sgt. Smith Theater.

A Hawaii soldier received the Army’s highest award for courage off the battlefield Wednesday at a ceremony in Schofield Barracks’ historic Sgt. Smith Theater.

Spc. Rene Rodriguez, a 22-year-old Army medic from El Paso, Texas, was given a standing ovation from the crowded theater as he accepted the Soldier’s Medal in recognition for saving a woman’s life last year in Wahiawa when he intervened to stop a man from beating her.

The old theater was packed for the ceremony.

It’s rare to see a soldier receive the award. Originally intended as an outdoor ceremony, rainy weather moved the event indoors.

“There are only 241 soldiers in the Army today active who have been awarded the Soldier’s Medal, ” said Col. Robert Shaw, Rodriguez’s brigade commander. “That’s about one-twentieth of 1 % of all soldiers on active duty.”

On what seemed like a regular Saturday morning in October 2022, Rodriguez was driving from the post when he saw about 15 people gathered near the side of the road by Green World Coffee Farm in Wahiawa.

He realized they were all watching a man on top of a woman beating her. She was screaming, “He’s trying to kill me !”

Rodriguez said that when he realized what was happening, he asked himself what his father would do.

“Once I went to that internal monologue, I just turned around and stopped my car, ” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I got out and, yeah, I was scared before I opened the car, but once I got out of my car, that’s when it just became automatic.”

According to his award citation, he “moved through a crowd of bystanders observing the assault and intentionally positioned himself between the victim and the attacker … he used his body as a shield, endured numerous strikes from the assailant, all while moving the woman into his vehicle to depart the scene.”

Rodriguez got the woman, who by this point was bloodied and crying, into his car. He had thought that he’d managed to convince the man to let her go and walk away, but before he could get the car moving, the attacker punched through his car window and tried to grab the woman and pull her out of the car and continue beating her. Rodriguez leaped back into action and fought back to protect the woman and resist the attacks until officers from the Honolulu Police Department arrived.

The attacker then fled the scene in his own vehicle with police in pursuit. Rodriguez waited with the woman until an ambulance arrived on the scene. HPD officers eventually caught and arrested the attacker as he attempted to flee on foot into the jungle. He was later identified as a man with an outstanding arrest warrant in California for murder.

“Although one of the bystanders called 911, not a single person acted to stop the ongoing attack, ” Shaw said.

During the ceremony, Shaw told attendees that Rodriguez had never told his chain of command what happened and that it was a witness who called the Army to bring the soldier’s actions to their attention.

“Without contact with that witness our unit would have never known what Rodriguez did on that Saturday morning, ” Shaw said.

Fellow soldiers described Rodriguez as humble and hard working. He was born about a month after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and enlisted in the Army in August 2020. The Army has lately struggled to attract new recruits. Rodriguez said that his grandfather, a Vietnam War veteran, was a major influence on his life and role model that, in part, inspired him to join.

The Soldier’s Medal was established in 1926 after the War Department declared a need to recognize distinguished individual acts of heroism not involving actual contact with the enemy. It’s awarded to American soldiers or those from allied nations who risk their personal safety on behalf of fellow soldiers or civilians.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Ryan, 25th Infantry Division commander, told the Star-Advertiser that in his entire career in the military he’s only seen the Soldier’s Medal awarded twice.

Ryan said that in the days before Rodriguez received the award, he told him that high honors like the Soldier’s Medal can sometimes be a burden to those who carry it because they are expected to always live up to it. But when he spoke to Rodriguez on the stage, Ryan told the young medic that as long as he continues being the person that he is, it won’t be a burden.

“This is something I never would have expected, ” Rodriguez told attendees at the ceremony during brief remarks after receiving the award. “I’ll continue to serve with dedication and uphold the values this award represents.”

Rodriguez’s parents flew to Hawaii from El Paso to see their son receive the award. His father, Nestor Rodriguez, told the Star-­Advertiser “he has shown his commitment to be the person that he is. I know he’s not the type of person that if you see something happening, he’s just gonna walk away.”


(c) 2023 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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