FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- A California National Guard flight surgeon traveled cross-country to Army Aviation's home to accept the Order of Saint Michael award June 8.

U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker Chief of Staff Col. Timothy Edens bestowed the honor upon Lt. Col. Salvador Renteria, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade in Fresno, during a brief ceremony at the headquarters building here.

Renteria has served in the Army for more than 32 years.

Edens noted the Soldier "does great things in his field."

"This is a small token for what you do for Army Aviation and we never want to forget what Army Aviation means to the Soldiers on the ground," he said.

Recipients must embody courage, justice and gallantry to receive the award, according to post leaders, which describes the flight surgeon.

Renteria said he was humbled and excited to accept the medallion and plaque.

"I'm really honored. I've got to let it sink in," he said after the ceremony.

Serving others and saving lives has been Renteria's passion since joining the Army in 1976 as a medic, he said. He attended college and medical school in the early- to mid-1980s, and later joined the Army Reserve. He became a commissioned officer in the National Guard on April 12, 1990.

During his more than three decades in the military, Renteria has traveled all over the country and world to perform medical work, write treatment protocols for medical evacuation units and mentor other Soldiers.

His home unit flies a variety of aircraft, all of which he's worked in, including OH-58 Kiowas, CH-47 Chinooks, UH-60 Black Hawks, C-12 Hurons and C-23 Sherpas.

"I like the lifestyle. I like flying," he said.

When he's not wearing his Army uniform, the Guardsman works as a civilian cardiothoracic surgeon. He also advises National Guard medical students and lectures frequently to University of California, Davis pre-med students, he said.

"I love watching them grow," he said, noting he gives them advice. "When you find that thing in your heart that makes you happy, and you have a bunch of challenges you meet and overcome (to achieve it), do it."

Renteria established three Aviation medical clinics throughout the state last summer. He created the centers to perform flight duty exams, periodic health assessments and track Soldiers' health pre-deployments, he said. While run by the Guard, these facilities also aid California servicemembers from various active-duty military branches.

From Sacramento, Calif., Renteria leaves for an Iraq deployment later this year.