By Master Sgt. Kanessa R. TrentApril 7, 2008
LOS ANGELES (Army News Service, April 7, 2008) - A Reserve Officers Training Corps instructor at the University of Southern California received the Soldiers Medal April 2 for his actions more than four years ago to save Soldiers trapped in a sinking Humvee.
When a vehicle accident along a scout route caused an armored Humvee to flip over an embankment, leaving the vehicle submerged with Soldiers trapped inside near the Diyala River in Iraq on Aug. 30, 2003, Master Sgt. (then-Sgt. 1st Class) Curtis (Bobby) Elliott, sprang into action.
The platoon sergeant jumped out of his truck, stripped off his gear, and dove into the narrow canal to rescue his troops. Elliott first pulled one Soldier safely to shore, and then returned to search for others.
Sgt. Sean Cataudella was not breathing when Elliott was finally able to pull him from the vehicle. Elliott attempted to give Cataudella CPR while in the water, but he couldn't effectively perform chest compressions. Once on shore, he and Spc. (then-Pvt.) Justin Edmonson continued to administer CPR for more than eight minutes. They successfully revived him, but Cataudella died later that day.
"Master Sgt. Elliot put himself at personal risk so that others - his Soldiers - could have the chance at life. That is what this medal represents, but more importantly, it represents what our Soldiers are all about: taking care of each other; never leaving a fallen comrade behind; and a platoon sergeant, a leader, leading by example," said Brig. Gen. David Hogg, Elliot's former brigade commander, who pinned the medal on Elliot.
Elliott said it is a great honor to have Hogg preside over the ceremony, although he said, "it comes as no surprise to me that Hogg personally fit time in his busy schedule to come all the way from Germany to present this medal to me."
Receiving this award will help "lift a weight off his chest," Elliott said, as he plans to give the medal to Cataudella's family.
"That horrific tragedy that night in Iraq is with me every day, and I am so sorry for not being able to bring everyone home," he said. "The only real hero is Sgt. Sean Cataudella who gave his life for his country. I want his family to know that he will be with me the rest of my life and that this great nation will always be in their debt for their sacrifice."
He's quick to add that he was not alone in the rescue efforts that night. "I want to especially thank Spc. Edmonson and Master Sgt. (Christopher) Onufrack for their heroic actions that night."
Initially, the award recommendation was downgraded, but unknown to Elliott, his sister, Mia Supe, wrote a letter to Hogg notifying him of that fact. Hogg, commander of the Joint Multi-national Training Command, recreated the packet and sent it back through the system.
Along with Supe, Hogg credits Congresswoman Jean Schmidt and Lt. Gen. J.D. Thurman, the Army's deputy chief of staff for training and operations, G3, who made sure that the review board had all 26 pages of documentation.
"He deserved the Soldier's Medal for his actions, and it was the right thing to do - for him, his family and the Army," Hogg said. "It was a tough night and would have been worse had not Master Sgt. Elliot put himself at risk to save our Soldiers."
"I really feel that the leadership in my old command has shown what real leaders are. They never quit to make it right. I can't thank Brig. Gen. Hogg enough for what he has done to make this situation possible," Elliott said. "Between Brig. Gen. Hogg and my wonderful sister Mia Supe, they never ever took no for an answer. I am so grateful to both of them."
Elliott, who will retire later this year, said he will soon visit Mr. Cataudella in Arizona. Elliott first went to meet with him just after he returned home from Iraq.
"I felt that I needed to tell him in person about that awful night. I handed him my Bronze Star that I was awarded over there. I felt it was the right thing to do. I told him exactly what happened and told him that I was so sorry for not bringing his son home. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I just hope that this can bring some comfort for his family."
(Master Sgt. Kanessa R. Trent serves with the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs-Los Angeles branch.)