Year of the NCO
Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Marquez and other Guardsmen from the 56th Brigade Special Troops Battalion review their paperwork during their demobilization at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center. Photo by Maj. Deanna Bague, Fort Bliss Public Affairs.
Maj. Deanna Bague
Fort Bliss Public Affairs
Sgt. 1st Class Ruben Marquez, assigned to 56th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 56th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, returned home Saturday with his unit from a nine-month deployment. Reserved and quiet, Marquez walked inside the Departure/Arrival Airfield Control Group at Biggs Army Airfield and was interrupted by several other Guardsmen who were encouraging him to talk about his Vietnam veteran status.
The only sign of his Vietnam experience was the Americal Division patch he wore on his right Army combat uniform sleeve. Marquez completed a one-year tour at the age of 19 in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, and left the service shortly thereafter. He reenlisted in the Texas Guard in 1983 and has served in Desert Storm/Desert Shield, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Marquez detailed what he felt was the most valuable first-hand observation that distinguishes the Iraq and Viet-nam wars – “the number of people dying in the battlefield.”
“During the Vietnam era, people would go into shock once they got wounded,” said Marquez. “The time between getting them first aid or getting some medical attention was a big difference. You weren’t trained to be able to respond to be a first-aid responder. Our job was to continue fighting and try to neutralize the fight. Most of the time, by the time you got to the person, within five minutes he already bled to death.”
Marquez said he recalled when in Vietnam he was trying to render aid to a Soldier who had been shot.
“I went up to him and I was looking for his wound, and he was talking to me but he went into shock,” said Marquez. “By the time the medic got to him, it was too late and you carry that with you sometimes. But now you see the difference. You see how well we are trained to give first-aid, and that makes a lot of difference.
“To me, that was one of the most giant steps taken by the military – where you can actually get to somebody and know that you did your best. You don’t have this thing about, ‘Oh man, if I had done this or if I had done that.’ It doesn’t create guilt. This is one of the things that I saw different [in Iraq].”
Marquez said another significant advantage today is the use of effective technology to defeat improvised explosive devices. Vietnam’s equivalent to the IEDs were the booby traps and mines, said Marquez.
“We did not have the adequate technology to be able to zone in on any type of booby trap [or] mine. We had to clear the roads and we had to actually walk with a mine sweeper.”
In Vietnam, Marquez’s job as a private was to clear the roads and pinpoint booby traps. He recalled having made the round too deep in the ground, causing an explosion that thrust him in the air.
“I came down, my weapon went one way, my helmet the other way,” said Marquez.
Capt. Jeremy Boyd, commander of the 56th BSTB, said he was apprehensive when he first learned Marquez and another Vietnam veteran, Sgt. 1st Class Isidore Salazar, were part of his unit.
“They are a little bit older so you don’t know how they’re going to perform,” said Boyd. “But both Sergeant 1st Class Marquez and Sergeant 1st Class Salazar performed exceptionally well. They earned the entire company’s respect from the get-go.”
Boyd said he was pleased both noncommissioned officers received the warm welcome and appreciation they missed out on during their Vietnam tours.
“Definitely these days [Soldiers] receive a lot better welcome,” said Boyd. “Not only here in El Paso, but at every airport that we’ve gone through during our mobilization, demobilization, and rest and recuperation leave; there’s always been some contingency there to welcome us. And the majority of people that welcome us are Vietnam vets because they didn’t receive the same kind of welcome back in their day.”