*BEST OF DTB #261* The Catholic Defender: The SSG Cardenas Story

Posted by John Benko - March 31st, 2013

It was spring/summer of 2006, I was relatively new to my unit as the Medical Platoon Sergeant. At this time I received a new Soldier, PVT Cardenas, a very young 17 year old new recruit.

I placed him in support of B Company, 2-5 CAV. with the B Company line medics.

PVT Cardenas would be given the responsibility of taking care of his Platoon of Cavalry Soldiers.

This is a very important role to keep your Soldiers medically qualified to deploy at any given time. This includes insuring that their shots are all up to date, recorded in the MEPROS, and medical records.

They have to train their Combat Life Savers ensuring that they are within standards, they must remain proficient in their medical skills.

They are the subject matter experts the Platoon Leader and Platoon Sergeant depends upon. It is a great responsibility for anyone to assume.

We deployed to Iraq in October 2006 and PVT Cardenas was the youngest Soldier I took to Iraq.

This was a 15 month deployment as we would not return to the United States until after the middle of January, 2008.

During this time, PVT Cardenas would earn his promotion to SPC, E-4, as he did very well under a hostile environment.

 He served at a very small JSS (Joint Security Station) that our Battalion strengthened and fortified.

There was a lot of enemy contact and all my Medics performed brilliantly. They saved a lot of lives as did all my Medics.

When the opportunity arose, I encouraged my Soldiers to depend on God, to trust in Him to help them, along with their training. It is important to hold firmly your faith in such places.

PVT Cardenas was no exception, he was raised Protestant, and I knew his wife and family were culturally Catholic.

In 2009, our unit would redeploy back to Iraq for another 12 months and this time, SPC Cardenas was dedicated in studying the Catholic Faith.

We would get together when the opportunity was there, we were both at JSS Sader City, which was a very dangerous place to be.

 I had medics at JSS UR, FORD, Comanche, War Eagle, and other places in our operations of theater.

The Platoons would constantly be out on missions so it was difficult for much organization there. We did the best that we could. I would bring SPC Cardenas up for promotion to Sergeant and so he went before the Board and did excellent getting a high score.

Upon returning from this deployment, SPC P Cardenas would PCS out of the Unit and transfer out to another Station in San Antonio Texas.

I would go to the Fort Hood Medical Hospital and finish out my 26 year career there.

Throughout this time, I always encouraged him to excel in his military career as I did with all my Soldiers, but most importantly, I encouraged him to continue his journey to the Catholic Faith.

This past year, I was honored to Sponsor SSG Cardenas into the Catholic Faith this past Easter Vigil, March 30, 2013 (San Antonio Texas).

He was able to share with me his success being recognized as NCO of the Year at his Unit/Station.

What an honor this is and another one I am most proud of. Like a Father, I have had one Soldier recognized nationally as Soldier of the Year by the USO, celebrated in Washington D.C. and another one earning the “Daisey Award” which is rare for a lower enlisted to earn.

SSG Cardenas is certainly in that company of great Soldiers I have had the opportunity to lead and serve with.

Not only did SSG Cardenas receive the Sacramental Grand Slam, Baptism. Confirmation, and God be praised, Holy Communion, his wife was confirmed along with him! What a great blessing for the Cardenas family and what an honor for me to Sponsor SSG Cardenas.


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