As Maria Rodriguez-Torres listened to the narrative accompanying the presentation of the Bronze Star Medal to her husband for his accomplishments 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 siege no fewer than 24 times in which the enemy fired rocket-propelled grenades, 82 mm mortars and 107 mm rocket fire, and she trembled.
She heard how he constructed and ran a kitchen to feed 150 U.S., Afghan and International Security Assistance Force 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, 1/10th SFG(A), served as the primary food specialist at Forward Operating Base 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, Sgt. 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, said 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, [I am] 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 107 mm 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 fired mortar rounds at the enemy 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 recommended Rodriguez-Torres be awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
“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 Sgt. 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. Afterward, he praised the Special Forces operators 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, while in Stuttgart 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 Soldiers first. His actions should make every Soldier in the entire food service specialist field proud.”