AL ASAD, Iraq -- “HM1 Gilbert Minjares! HM1 Gilbert Minjares! HM1 Gilbert Minjares... HM3 Manuel Ruiz! HM3 Manuel Ruiz! HM3 Manuel Ruiz!” said Sgt. Maj. George Shine, the Marine Aircraft Group 29 sergeant major, as he called role, but on this day there was no answer.
Instead, on Feb. 12, silence filled the chapel as the Marines and Sailors of MAG-29 mourned the death of their fallen brothers.
Minjares and Ruiz, both medical evacuation corpsmen with the MAG, died as a result of enemy action, Feb. 7.
“These were caring individuals who were able to put aside the natural preservation instinct knowing they would be making a difference,” said Chief Petty Officer Gil McGillivray, the MAG-29 leading chief petty officer. “They didn't measure there accomplishments by how many awards they received, rather by the lives they affected every time they took a mission. The kind of corpsmen that didn’t think they were above the dangers but rather the kind that accepted this danger with pride. It is corpsmen like this that have made a name for us with the Marine Corps and the title which sometimes loses its meaning in peacetime, ‘Doc’.”
Minjares and Ruiz had just started their deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“Having a loss like this at any time is hard,” said. Col. Christopher Owens, the MAG-29 commanding officer. “Having it in the beginning of the deployment was exceptionally difficult.”
Although they have passed away, Minjares and Ruiz will never be forgotten by their fellow service members.
“I think keeping their memory alive is of great importance,” said McGillivray. “We need to do the same for all those who have fallen in service to our nation. These people are willing to lay down the ultimate sacrifice to aid their fellow man without hesitation.”
Minjares a native of El Paso, Texas, served the Navy for 13 years and was in his first deployment to Iraq. Although he was stationed with MAG-14 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., he volunteered to transfer to MAG-29 and serve as a casualty evacuation corpsman.
“(Petty Officer 1st Class) Minjares had to say goodbye to his family, including a newborn,” said McGillivray. “He did so knowing he was risking his life to save those of others.”
Ruiz on the other hand was no stranger to Iraq; he flew over 136 hours in support of casualty evacuation missions with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadrons 364 and 161 in his first deployment. The Rota, Spain, native, was requested by name to help train corpsmen in the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and then raised his hand to deploy with MAG-29.
“This was the second time (Petty Officer 3rd Class) Ruiz has come in country to do the (casualty evacuation) mission and he volunteered knowing the dangers,” said McGillivray.
Every casualty evacuation corpsman knows that their job is a dangerous occupation, but they still put their lives on the line.
“These personnel complete many flight hours over hostile zones,” said McGillivray. “They also land in dangerous areas to pick up what is known as "point of injury" personnel, where they are subjected to possible small arms fire and snipers. Anyone flying (casualty evacuations) can quit at anytime without repercussion, yet they all chose to keep flying and continue saving lives.”
Although the Marines and Sailors of MAG-29 will mourn the death of their fallen brothers, it helps drive home the reality of their current situation.
“This was a stark reminder that we are at war and that the threat remains,” said Owens. “(The service members) should never take their responsibilities lightly. We will mourn the loss of our brothers and will strive to live up to the high standards of service and self sacrifice set by (Petty Officer 1st Class) Minjares and (Petty Officer 3rd Class) Ruiz.”
Minjares is survived by his wife Jeannie, 2-year-old son Gilbert III and one-month-old daughter Miranda.
Ruiz is survived by his father Manuel, mother Lisa and brothers Joshua and Jacob.
“Their sons are heroes,” said Owens. “They performed a mission that is the most challenging to perform in the (aviation combat element) and most rewarding, in that they save the lives of service members. What they do, we couldn’t live without.”