President Bush Visits Wounded SF Soldiers

17 January 2003

Below is an attempt to capture a truly memorable event that took place at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington DC.

The President came to visit five soldiers that were wounded in Afghanistan.  SSG Jerry Cortinas was one of those soldiers and the reason I, MSG Samuel Rodriguez, was present for this event.

As the President entered the room he spoke Spanish to the family. He said hello to everyone and positioned himself on the left side of SSG Cortinas' bed. Mrs. Celina Cortinas was standing next to him. I was standing on the
opposite side of the bed with SSG Cortinas' mother, Nancy Cortinas, and his two aunts.

He said hello to Celina and then to SSG Cortinas. He then looked at me and reached across SSG Cortinas to shake my hand and ask me where I was from. I told him that I was originally from New York, but I re-entered the military while living in Texas.

He replied, "Texas," with a little laugh. I then told the President that Jerry and his family are from Texas. The whole room started to laugh. Mr. Bush told the Cortinas family in Spanish, to say hello to his mother the next
time they are in Texas. He hadn't seen her in a while.

The President then turned his attention to SSG Cortinas, the person he had come to see. SSG Cortinas instructed his wife to hand the President a sterling silver 7th SFG coin as a gift for coming to see him and the other wounded soldiers.

After thanking him he told Jerry that he had something for him as well. At that point MG Kiley, the Commander of Walter Reed Medical Center, produced the published order for SSG Cortinas' Bronze Star.

The President pinned the award to Jerry's hospital gown. SSG Cortinas thanked The President and extended his amputated left arm to the President to shake.  The President grabbed his amputated limb with both hands and shook it.

He then did something that took everyone in the room by surprise. He reached down and kissed SSG Cortinas on the forehead. The way a father would kiss his child before putting him to bed.

As he rose from the bed you could see the emotion welling up in his eyes. He told SSG Cortinas that he was strong and he was going to be OK. He turned to Celina and thanked her with a hug for her husband's selfless service to our country.

SSG Cortinas told the President that he wanted to stand up for him. The President told him that it was OK, he was standing for him both of them.  Jerry told the President that, after he was completely healed, he wanted to
go back overseas to fight the war.

Mr. Bush told him and everyone in the room that we needed more men like SSG Cortinas. The President then came around the bed and thanked Jerry's mother and aunts for Jerry's service to our country. Mrs. Nancy Cortinas requested the President take a picture with the family.

Mrs. Laura Bush approached me and shook my hand. I thanked her for coming to see our soldier. She said that it wasn't a problem. As The President turned to leave the room he told the Cortinas family "Dios de Bendiga". On the way out of the room the President turned to me, shook my hand again, and told me that I was doing a fine job. Outside the room the President took pictures with Mrs. Bush, Dion Cortinas (2yr old child), & Mrs. Celina Cortinas.

Mrs. Nancy Cortinas, Jerry's mother, grabbed my arm and told the President that she wanted a picture of the two of us. She told The President that I had been like one of her sons since Jerry's accident. As I was standing next to the President he commented that I seemed like the kind of friend that someone like SSG Cortinas needed during a time like this.

I told the President "Sir, I know that if it was me laying in that bed, Jerry would be there for me, just like any other soldier would, in 7th SFG". With that the President shook my hand again, looked me in the eye, and told me I was a good man.

To say the least, I was extremely flattered by The President's kind words. In my heart I know that it could have been anyone from 7th SFG here, and he would have told him the same thing. That was one of the reasons I came to SF, because we take care of our own. I'm very thankful to still have that feeling after 22 years of military service.

I leave you with some images of the Commander in Chief expressing his thanks and gratitude to a warrior for his selfless service to his country. Remember that Special Forces Medics and his teammates saved this warrior's life.  Without their efforts and commitment SSG Cortinas would never have lived to reflect on this memorable day.

His medical care has truly been a success story. I can't say enough about all the medical personnel involved in saving SSG Cortinas' life. SSG Cortinas has made tremendous progress since he was injured, but still has a long way to go. Please keep the Cortinas family in your prayers.

MSG Samuel R. Rodriguez
7th SFG(A) Surgeon NCOIC