By November 27, 2008, By Lt. Col. Joe Allegretti, Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines, Public AffairsDecember 2, 2008
ZAMBOANGA, PHILIPPINES - A deployed Army soldier assigned to the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines here was awarded the Soldier's Medal for risking his life to save three Philippines college students from drowning 30 September 2007.
When calls for help were heard that day along the shores at Naval Station Zamboanga in the Southern Philippines, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ruben D. Gonzalez sprang into action.
Arthur M. Atilano witnessed the events. He said, "One of the kids got pulled by the current and brought him in the deep area below the pier. Then, two teenagers tried to save the kid. The two teenagers were also pulled to the deep water. That was when they started calling for help."
Students and staff of Zamboanga's MEIN College were enjoying a day at the beach, celebrating the college's "Foundation Day," when the three students got caught in the dangerous current and were dragged into deep, unsafe water.
"The water current that day was incredibly strong; even the LCT [a 65 ton naval vessel] could not dock at the pier," said Sergeant Sausha T. Jones of the JSOTF-P.
Gonzalez was in the area performing logistics work. Seeing and hearing the situation begin to unravel, he quickly dove headfirst into the water and went for the most exhausted swimmer first. Grabbing the victim around the chest, Gonzalez swam him to the nearest pier piling, which served as a makeshift life-preserver. Telling the student to hold the piling as tightly as possible, Gonzalez swam back out for the other two distressed swimmers, pulling them both through the current to the nearest pier piling.
"I was so tired and exhausted, I could not hang on [to the piling] and accepted that I was going to die," said the first swimmer Gonzalez rescued.
Seeing Philippine Navy personnel throwing floatation devices down to the distressed swimmers, Gonzalez shouted out words of encouragement to hang on a little longer.
Upon reaching the beach, Philippine Navy medics tended to the victims. After it was clear the students were ashore and in good hands, Gonzalez left the growing crowd of onlookers, unnoticed. He got back in his vehicle and, despite several cuts on his arms, hands, legs, and feet, returned to duty.
"Knowing the danger on putting his life at risk to rescue my students is a heroism act that forever will be embedded in our hearts, for without him that very moment, my students would have died," said MEIN College teacher and eye-witness, Margie Janda. "Thank God for giving us Mr. Gonzalez."