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