FORT KNOX, Ky. (Army News Service, Jan. 23, 2007) - Master Sgt. Jose Rodriguez Ramos doesn't remember the Mustang heading toward his trainees. He doesn't remember grabbing one trainee and pushing him out of the way, or the car slamming into him.
At the time, Rodriguez Ramos - who has spent 23 years in the Army since he joined from his childhood home in Puerto Rico - was the first sergeant for Fort Knox's Company B, 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment, a job he'd held for about a year and a half.
On May 5, he and one of his drill sergeants were near the post's Victory Field, administering a last-chance Army Physical Fitness Test to five trainees on the morning of their basic training graduation. That's when the Mustang, driven by a Soldier who was impaired by alcohol he had consumed the night before, changed everything.
Rodriguez Ramos can't tell anyone what happened. Because of the injuries he suffered when the car hit him, he can't remember anything that happened. He remembers driving home after his unit's "family day" held the day before, and he remembers regaining consciousness in the hospital many days later.
"I remember driving home after family day," he said. "From there, I lost my memory for three to four weeks."
Staff Sgt. Kenneth Smith, a drill sergeant for Company B, was helping Rodriguez Ramos administer the PT test. After the trainees had finished the push-up and sit-up events on Victory Field, the group moved to the start point for the two-mile run.
"First Sergeant had the stop watch," Smith recalled. He said the trainees were stretching in a gravel area near the road during the regulatory 10 minutes between events.
"I looked up and I saw headlights down the road," he said. He was looking over the trainees' PT cards, and at first didn't think anything was amiss with the approaching vehicle.
But as it neared the group, the car wasn't slowing down. Suddenly, he said, the car started heading directly toward the Soldiers stretching in the gravel.
"I told them, 'Watch out!'" he said.
The Mustang nearly hit Smith, who was in front of the rest of the group.
Moving at more than 40 miles per hour, it had turned off the road and was now headed directly for the trainees.
"(Rodriguez Ramos) grabbed one of the privates and pushed him," Smith said, which put the first sergeant directly in the path of the out-of-control car. It struck Rodriguez Ramos and two of the trainees, and continued about 50 meters before finally coming to a stop when it ran into a storm drain.
Smith said that if Rodriguez Ramos hadn't acted, one of the trainees would almost certainly have taken the brunt of the Mustang's impact.
Three trainees were injured, and Rodriguez Ramos was lying on the pavement, unresponsive.
"His eyes were open, but he wasn't breathing," Smith said. "There was blood coming out of his mouth and out of his ears."
Smith directed the two uninjured trainees to help with first aid. One stabilized Rodriguez Ramos' head between his knees, while Smith sent the other up the road to find drill sergeants who could help. Smith also called 911.
"I was really directing the privates while I was trying to explain the situation to the operator," he said.
When the ambulance arrived, Rodriguez Ramos had begun breathing intermittently.
The emergency medics stabilized him and set off for a hospital in Louisville.
Rodriguez Ramos suffered a broken right leg, fractured pelvis, a broken right shoulder, damage to his spleen and cuts to the back of his head. Metal rods were inserted into his leg. He was eventually transferred to Elizabethtown's HealthSouth rehabilitation center.
He spent 30 days in the hospital, and another 30 on convalescent leave.
While in the Elizabethtown facility, he said, his memory started to return, much to the relief of his wife and children. His son, a Navy sailor, traveled to Elizabethtown to be with his father. By the time Rodriguez Ramos' memory began to clear, his family members were breathing easier over his recovery.
"They were okay because they knew I was going to be okay," he said. "I was making a lot of progress, even before my memory came back."
But some of the damage was longer-term.
"They're still working on my legs and shoulder," he said.
In a January 5 ceremony, Fort Knox Commander Maj. Gen. Robert Williams awarded Rodriguez Ramos the Soldier's Medal - the peacetime equivalent of the Distinguished Service Cross.
"It's an honor," said Rodriguez Ramos, who now works as his unit's operations chief. "I wasn't expecting anything ... I wasn't looking for medals."
While he can't remember moving to protect one of his trainees, Rodriguez Ramos said he believes what he did was just part of being a professional Soldier.
"It's something you do - you take care of each other," he said. "You take care of your team."
Rodriguez Ramos said that the incident underlines the need for leaders to expect the unexpected.
"We did all the right things, everyone had road guards," he said. "You can take care of what you need to be taking care of, but you'll always have the unknowns."