Defense Media Network

Master Sgt. Ivan M. Ruiz, Air Force Cross Recipient

Special Tactics Pararescueman, 23rd Special Tactics Squadron



A Pararescueman’s (PJ) primary function is to perform personnel recovery operations and provide battlefield emergency medical care. A PJ’s unique technical rescue skill sets are utilized during humanitarian and combat operations; they deploy anywhere, anytime, with air-sea-land tactics into restricted environments to authenticate, extract, treat, stabilize, and evacuate injured or isolated personnel.

Their motto, “That Others May Live,” reaffirms the Pararescueman’s commitment to saving lives. Without PJs, thousands of service members and civilians would have been unnecessarily lost in past conflicts and natural disasters. On Dec. 10, 2013, Master Sgt. Ivan M. Ruiz, a Pararescueman, was attached as the lone rescue specialist to an Army Special Forces team assaulting a Taliban stronghold. The team inserted into the Mushan village area in no-visibility conditions due to the CH-47 Chinooks creating a dust and sand cloud at the insertion point. Despite this, Ruiz quickly gathered his element of Afghan commandos and moved rapidly to the objective. While they moved, an orbiting flight of AH-64 Apache helicopters observed armed insurgents maneuvering into attack positions, and began engaging with 30 mm cannon fire.

With the element of surprise lost, Ruiz followed his Afghan clearing element into the courtyard of a target compound and breached the main building. Four inhabitants emerged, appearing to surrender. Without warning, the surrendering insurgents drew weapons and began firing. Four U.S. service members and 10 Afghan commandos engaged in a point-blank firefight, which ended with the elimination of all four insurgents.

Gathering in the courtyard, Ruiz and two U.S. team members faced two small mud huts. Ruiz focused on one hut, while his teammates oriented on the other. Instantly, an armed insurgent filled the doorway of one hut 20 meters away. Ruiz instinctively fired his rifle, neutralizing the enemy fighter. Simultaneously, a barrage of machine gun fire erupted from the second hut, wounding the two team members near Ruiz. Ruiz laid down cover fire in an attempt to move closer to his fallen comrades, but he was unable to advance against the high volume of enemy fire. He shouted for reinforcement, but the Afghan commandos were trapped behind cover. Disregarding his own safety, Ruiz crossed the open courtyard toward his wounded team members.

Without assistance, he engaged enemy forces who blasted machine gun fire at him across the compound. Ruiz continued to suppress the enemy fighters with his own fire until finally joined by a U.S. team member. When his team member threw a grenade into the hut, he seized the advantage and closed the distance to his wounded comrades. Seconds later, insurgents in the hut responded with two grenades of their own. Prone and unable to maneuver, Ruiz was saved by an unpulled pin as the first grenade landed within feet of him while the other grenade detonated a few meters away.

Ruiz pressed through intense fire to reach the two wounded soldiers and drag them to relative safety. Ruiz then treated his wounded team members and packaged them for transport on an incoming helicopter. Rejoining his assault team, Ruiz treated three commandos wounded by grenade shrapnel, and continued to clear enemy compounds until the operation ended.

Ruiz’s actions saved the lives of two U.S. team members and contributed to the death of 11 enemy fighters. Ruiz received the Air Force Cross medal for his heroic actions against an armed enemy of the United States.

This article first appeared in The Year in Special Operations 2015-2016 Edition.