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Tech. Sgt. Ruben M. Vazquez of the 36 Medical Group, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, shows daughters Alivia, 4, left, and Natalia, 2, the citation accompanying the Bronze Star presented him Thursday.

Tech. Sgt. Ruben M. Vazquez of the 36 Medical Group, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, shows daughters Alivia, 4, left, and Natalia, 2, the citation accompanying the Bronze Star presented him Thursday. (Frank Whitman / Special to S&S)

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ruben M. Vazquez, of the 36th Medical Group at Guam’s Andersen Air Force Base, was presented the Bronze Star on Thursday for his performance during a recent deployment to Iraq.

From November to May, Vazquez, as a member of a 12-member Army team advising the Iraqi forces, was the adviser to the Iraqi army’s 2nd Division medical commander.

The Iraqi medical commander “stood up 12 battalion aid stations while I was there,” Vazquez said. “I was able to teach them how to run a full health-care system for the Iraqi military. We did a lot of convoys throughout Mosul, which is … pretty dangerous. I was typically a driver.”

The convoys had just three Humvees at a time “so they were small operations but we moved quite a bit,” he said. Vazquez was the only coalition medical provider “in an austere environment with scarce resources,” according to the award narrative.

While Vazquez was in Mosul, the 36th Medical Group collected and sent more than 80 boxes of clothing, school supplies and toys for Iraqi children. “A lot of the Iraqi kids were running around barefoot,” he said. “I only sent one e-mail and we got loads and loads of boxes. The med group was outstanding.”

Col. Michael Boera, the 36th Wing commander, presented the award, noting the significance of an Air Force medic being “recognized in the field by warriors.

“But this is reflective of what he has done throughout his career, day in and day out, year after year,” Boera said.

After the ceremony, Vazquez said another challenge was learning to trust the Iraqi soldiers on whom his life depended.

“We actually were in an Iraqi compound with Iraqi security,” he said. “A lot of these were conscripts who couldn’t read or write and had just come out of rural areas to join the military. We really didn’t know what their background was or what their loyalty was. These were the people who were standing the gate for us and protecting us.

“So the bond we developed with them was … I can’t even describe what trust means. We were putting our lives into their hands. We’d see all the bad things that were happening with insurgents and we didn’t know who was who. But we had to develop some kind of trust with them and it came down to the fact that we had to sit down and talk and drink tea and look the other person in the eye.”

Vazquez’s wife, Jennifer, and daughters, Alivia, 4, and Natalia, 2, also attended the ceremony.

“He kept me in the dark a little bit about what was going on, which I think I appreciate,” said Jennifer. “But I knew that whatever he was doing, he would do with the utmost care and that he would come home safely.”

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