As Maria Rodriguez-Torres listened to the reading of narrative to accompany the award of the Bronze Star medal highlighting her husband’s accomplishments from his tour in Afghanistan, her facial expression displayed a look of astonishment.
She heard about his courageous actions when his forward operating base came under attack and her eyes widened. She heard how he came under attack no less than 24 times in which the enemy fired rocket-propelled grenades, 82mm mortars and 107mm rocket fire, and she trembled.
She finally heard how he constructed and ran a kitchen to feed 150 U.S., Afghan and ISAF military personnel, how he taught three local Afghan contract employees on all aspects of dining operations, and she revealed a huge smile.
Then she watched Maj. Gen. Michael Repass, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command Europe, pin the Bronze Star and Lt. Col. Isaac Peltier, commander, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) pin the Combat Action Badge on her husband, Sgt. Javier Rodriguez-Torres, and she held back tears of pride and joy.
“He is my hero, and from the beginning I knew what being a soldier meant to him,” she said.
Rodriguez-Torres, who is currently assigned to Headquarters Support Company, 1-10 SFG(A), served as the Primary Food Specialist at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Kutschbach and was responsible for the planning, forecasting, ordering and feeding of all forces in probably “one of the most dangerous kitchens in Afghanistan.”
According to the ODA detachment commander who commanded the base, FOB Kutshcbach lies in the heart of a heavily contested region with Taliban insurgents maneuvering in and around the immediate area just outside the perimeter.
“Our base was repeatedly attacked with mortar and rocket fire on numerous occasions during our combat tour,” the ODA commander said. “During every attack, Sergeant Rodriguez-Torres remained calm, ensuring all foreign national personnel, to include assistant cooks and linguists, were accounted for before maneuvering to the mortar pit to assist with counter-fire missions.
“He went above and beyond what is expected of a support Soldier working with seasoned Special Forces Operators.”
Rodriguez-Torres, who hails from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, mentioned that despite being a cook, it is always his duty to be a Soldier first.
“One second you’re cooking a meal and the next you hear the alarm going off and immediately afterwards you hear the blast of the RPGs, mortars or rockets; then you find yourself reacting and running to the mortar pit to assist the gunnerymen,” he said. “Even though I’m a cook, I know that I’m a Soldier first and as a Soldier we are mentally prepared for any situation or circumstance.”
On one such morning as he was about to prepare breakfast for the Soldiers on the FOB, the alarm went off, and as he dived to the ground, a 107mm rocket blasted 10 feet above him. The blast was so close that he could feel the heat of the projectile, yet he instinctively checked on his three local national cooks to ensure they were not injured and he led them to safety in the bunkers.
Afterwards he ran to a mortar position and engaged the enemy by firing mortar rounds to help defend the FOB.
Towards the end of the combat tour, the ODA commander submitted a list of forthcoming tour award write ups and included Rodriguez-Torres’ name for recommendation of the Bronze Star.
“I initially received resistance with a comment of ‘a cook?’ We've never had a cook receive a BSM,’" said the ODA commander. “I replied by sending the BSM citation in which I depicted Sergeant Rodriguez-Torres' phenomenal performance, to include his tireless work ethic and courage under fire. After that, the award was processed without any further question.”
During the award ceremony, Rodriguez-Torres' was humble and spoke softly about his actions during his tour. Afterwards, he gave praise to the Special Forces Operators who he served alongside.
“This has been a once in a lifetime accomplishment that would not be possible without the training and mentoring offered by the ODA and the courage that the unit has,” Rodriguez-Torres said. “It’s incredible to see these men honoring and battling for their country without hesitating to risk their lives.
“For me, this is something that I did in the situation, but for them it’s something they do on a daily basis. As I hold the Bronze Star medal in my hands, I can’t help but think of the leadership and teamwork that enabled me to earn this award.”
Attending the ceremony as part of the Phillip A. Connelly Awards Program, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Georgene Davis, a U.S. Army Food Advisor who has been around Army cooks for more than two decades said she was in awe as she listened to Rodriguez-Torres’ citation being read.
“I’m just inspired by what this young Soldier accomplished in Afghanistan,” Davis said. “He put himself in harm’s way, displayed remarkable courage and showed that cooks are Soldier’s first. His actions should make every Soldier in the entire Food Service Specialist field proud.”