US soldier to receive highest peacetime award for heroism after defending woman
(CNN) — A US soldier in Hawaii is receiving the military’s highest award for valor not in combat on Wednesday for saving a woman’s life and repeatedly fighting off a man who was attacking her.
Spc. Rene Rodriguez, who is stationed in Hawaii with the 25th Infantry Division, told CNN that he was driving home from work last October when he came upon a group of roughly 10 people, standing by as a man was “punching” a woman. The bystanders didn’t appear to be doing anything about it, he said.
“I thought to myself, ‘What’s the right thing to do? Like what would my dad do?’” Rodriguez said. “And I stopped and turned my car around.”
Rodriguez ultimately stopped the violent attack on the woman, after the man in question repeatedly came back for her.
On Wednesday, months after the attack, Rodriguez will receive the Soldier’s Medal during a ceremony at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The Soldier’s Medal is the Army’s highest-level peacetime award, recognizing heroism involving voluntary risk of life not in combat.
“Spc. Rodriguez is being recognized for his heroic actions on October 20, 2022, when he noticed a woman being violently assaulted and immediately intervened with complete disregard for his safety, stopping the assault and proactively protecting the victim until law enforcement arrived,” a news release from the 25th Infantry Division said.
Rodriguez said he didn’t know he’d been approved for the award until two months ago, and while he was surprised, he was also “happy to know that people … believed in my decision that day.”
His decision was a simple one, he said, hinging on knowing he needed to help the woman under attack.
When Rodriguez pulled up on the side of the road next to where the attack was taking place, he said the woman was bleeding from her face, and crying.
“While recognizing the woman’s risk of serious injury or death, he moved through a crowd of bystanders observing the assault and intentionally positioned himself between the victim and the attacker,” the award citation says. “He used his body as a shield, endured numerous strikes from the assailant, all while moving the woman into his vehicle to depart the scene.”
Indeed, he thought he’d talked the man attacking the woman into walking away, but as Rodriguez took her to his car to sit down, the man “came out of nowhere again and pulled her out of my car and started to beat her again.”
Rodriguez again fought him off, and after getting her back into his car, this time he locked the door. He was running to the driver side when the man came back, “punching the window out” on the passenger side door, trying to “drag her out of the car,” according to Rodriguez.
It was around that time that the police arrived – a result of a bystander’s call, Rodriguez believes – and the man jumped into his own car and took off, causing the police to pursue him to the other side of Oahu.
Rodriguez said it was clear to him that the woman was “definitely in shock,” and when an ambulance arrived to the scene, he waited nearby as she was treated by the paramedics.
“I wanted to talk to her telling her she was okay,” he said. “Tell her that if she needed anything, she could call me. I gave her my phone number, and she contacted me the day after and the week after telling me, telling me thank you.”
Rodriguez spoke later with police again, he said, who told him that the assailant had been found after attempting to “run into the jungle.” After apprehending him, Rodriguez said police picked him up and asked him to come identify him as the man in question.
Maj. Jeffrey Tolbert, a spokesperson for the 25th Infantry Division, said that Rodriguez’s action “just goes to show what strong moral character and fiber this young man has.”
“That’s kind of what we expect of any soldier, Tolbert said, “regardless of the situation, is to confront something that’s wrong when you see it and take action, whether it’s a small action or a big one.”
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