Face of Defense: Sailor Gets Presidential Call on Christmas

III Marine Expeditionary Force/Marine Corps Installations Pacific

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP S.D. BUTLER, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 26, 2013 – Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Vilma T. Rodriguez received a phone call from President Barack Obama on Christmas Day.

At the time of the call, Rodriguez was celebrating the holiday with friends at Camp Shields in Okinawa.

“In my 18 — almost 19 — years in the Navy I’ve never experienced anything like this,” said Rodriguez, an independent duty corpsman at the Camp Kinser Group Aid Station and assigned to Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

“To receive a call from the president — it’s a big deal,” she added. “I felt honored that he took time to show his concern for the well-being of my family.”

Obama wished Rodriguez a merry Christmas and thanked her for her hard work during Operation Damayan, the relief effort in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. The Marines assembled with Rodriguez also had an opportunity to wish the president a Merry Christmas.

Calling service members on Christmas has become a tradition for the commander-in-chief, and Rodriguez was selected this year for her admirable performance during Operation Damayan.

Rodriguez provided essential medical care for the U.S. military response team, but she was also affected personally by the storm. Rodriguez, a native of Tacloban, one of the hardest-hit areas, lost her brother and cousin to the typhoon. Dealing with her own personal crisis, Rodriguez prioritized the needs of others over her own and dedicated herself to the relief effort.

Rodriguez impressed Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Eric S. Anderson, command master chief of III MEF, who nominated her for the phone call.

While working alongside Rodriguez in the Philippines, Anderson and Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Donald C. Schrader, command master chief of 3rd MLG, III MEF, both took note of her selfless attitude despite her personal loss.

“She always had a smile on her face; she was very resourceful,” Schrader said. “She had her priorities all in order — to the mission first.”

Rodriguez is “a very humble person. She always puts others before herself,” he added.

“She’s got a heart of gold,” Schrader said.

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