ARLINGTON, Va. - Petty Officer 2nd Class Luis C. Ortiz was relaxing after a mission and ready to catch some sleep when the mortar attack began.
The explosions shook the house near Habbaniyah in Anbar province on April 26, 2006, while Ortiz and his group of SEALs were helping Iraqi troops and U.S. Marines, said Ortiz, a Navy reservist.
"I could hear people screaming," said Ortiz, 35. "I just threw on my small vest we had, and grabbed my med bag."
Ortiz, who had been trained as a corpsman and completed the combat medic course at Fort Bragg, N.C., said he and a lieutenant ran downstairs to see how many people were hurt.
"We got downstairs and entered a room," Ortiz said. "They were already bringing injured into that room, and the first thing I see is three bodies on the floor with holes in their bodies and just blood everywhere."
He looked for the people who were most severely injured.
After stabilizing a Marine with a bad leg injury, Ortiz went outside, where he quickly realized he was the only person on site with real medical training, he said.
He saw some wounded troops with dressings that had not been tied down. Others had dressings tied on, but they were above or below the wound.
"Those dressings weren’t helping any," Ortiz said.
He said he couldn’t tell if the wounded troops were Americans or Iraqis.
"Everyone looks the same covered in blood."
Ortiz can’t remember if mortar rounds were still falling while he was treating the wounded outside.
He didn’t have time to think about whether he was exposed.
He was only worried about not messing up.
Ortiz quickly determined which troops were most critical. They had injuries to the chest, face and near the femoral artery in the leg.
When a helicopter landed to evacuate the wounded, there was not enough room for all the casualties. Frightened Iraqi troops tried to get aboard in an attempt to flee the scene, Ortiz said.
In one case, Ortiz yelled at two Marines to stop carrying a wounded Iraqi soldier on a stretcher and to put a critical casualty on the helicopter.
After he was put down, the Iraqi soldier got up and walked off, Ortiz said.
Ortiz then started pulling the less critically wounded Iraqis off the helicopter to make room for the more seriously wounded troops. He later learned that the critical patients he put on the helicopter survived.
Ortiz, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with a combat "V" device for treating the wounded during the mortar attack before the all clear was called.
He also earned the Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device for serving as lead corpsman for Navy Special Warfare Task Unit-Habbaniyah and a combat adviser for the 3rd Brigade 1st Division of the Iraqi army from April to October 2006.
Ortiz is now a deputy sheriff in San Bernardino, Calif., and has been promoted to petty officer first class, he said.
Thinking back on that day, Ortiz said he had been prepared by his training at Fort Bragg, in which he was put in overwhelming situations.
"That’s exactly what happened that day," he said. "I was overwhelmed, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. I had to go with the flow."
Name: Petty Officer 2nd Class Luis C. Ortiz
Unit: Navy Special Warfare Task Unit-Habbaniyah
Medal: Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with "V"
Earned: April 26, 2006
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