CAMP RIPPER, Iraq -- As the ongoing mission continues here, Marines and Sailors often find themselves in dangerous situations where they respond selflessly and heroically.
When the ordeal is over, they have another story to tell and are happy to have lived through it. The last thought on their mind is that they may be rewarded for doing what comes naturally to them.
That is when their leadership recommends an award and it comes into the hands of Cpl. Paul N. Ibarra, a young Marine from Brooklyn-Mill Basin, N.Y. His sole purpose during this deployment is to make sure these Marines receive “their just rewards.”
“I have to do the best job I can to make sure everything is correct on the awards write ups,” the 20-year-old administrative clerk said, “because if anything is done wrong, the whole process has to be done over from the start.”
The process starts when the service member’s command submits them for an award for their actions. The submission is then sent to Ibarra and Capt. Darrel L. Choat, the awards officer, before it goes to an awards board where it’s approved, disapproved, upgraded or downgraded. It is then sent back to the unit or to the next review board until it is at the approval authority for that particular medal. After final approval is met, the medal can be presented.
“Ibarra receives all the awards and does the initial checking before passing them on to me,” said Choat, 40-year-old Albion, Neb., native and 1981 Albion High School graduate. “Everything must be done to perfection, so there is no delay in getting these guys their proper award.”
Since February, Ibarra has seen almost 700 individual awards, including combat action ribbons, purple hearts, Navy achievement and commendation medals, bronze stars and silver stars.
Sometimes he gets more than 30 awards submitted within a matter of hours. However, for Ibarra, one particular medal sticks out above them all.
“In April, a young Marine with 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment defeated three oncoming SVBIEDs (suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices), while he was injured, that were going to attack his base,” Ibarra, a 2002 James Madison High School graduate, remembered. “He was submitted for a Navy Cross and that will be well earned if he gets it.”
Ibarra and Choat estimate the entire awards process to be approximately three to four months long, but they are working new methods to cut the process down to about a month.
Although Ibarra’s focus of effort is awards, he is also responsible for passing information from Red Cross messages, emergency leave requests, and personnel casualty reports.
“Someone has to stay near the computer for these issues 24-hours-a-day,” Ibarra stated. “If there is any delay it could seriously affect mission accomplishment and troop morale. So we follow through on each of them until we reach the end.”
Ibarra and Choat hope to process all the awards they can and make sure everyone is properly updated. They know this is the best they can do for those who earned their awards while defending their nation from an insurgent threat and helping Iraq establish itself as a peaceful state.
“From reading all these awards it shows me that this generation is just as heroic as those of the past,” Choat, a 1985 University of Nebraska and 1987 Oklahoma State University graduate, commented. “Parents, grandparents and other family members will be forever proud of them for being not only great Marines, but great Americans.