Bronze Star Awarded to RP

Story Number: NNS040204-04Release Date: 2/4/2004 12:26:00 PM
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By Journalist 1st Class (SW) Jason McKnight, Navy Region Southwest Public Affairs

MIRAMAR, Calif. (NNS) -- Religious Program Specialist 1st Class (FMF) Robert Page was awarded a Bronze Star at a ceremony held during the 25th Anniversary of the Religious Program Specialist rating luncheon at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Officer's Club Jan. 23.

Attached to First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) at Camp Pendleton, Page earned the medal for his actions near An Nasariya, Iraq, in March while supporting Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.

The self-effacing Page said he didn't feel like a hero.

"I don't know what a hero feels like," he said. "My wife is a hero. The Rabbi is a hero."

He went on to say that the medal, with the Combat Distinguishing Device "V" for Valor, indicating direct combat involvement, was for all religious program specialists (RP), and that he wanted his wife to know that he couldn't have done it if it wasn't for her.

The medal was pinned on by the same man whose life Page guarded, Rabbi (Cmdr.) Irvin Elson.

"Without this man acting as he did, I probably wouldn't be here today," said Elson. "My family would be without a husband and father."

Page's citation described some of the action, but Page went more in depth with several local media representatives who attended the event.

"We were headed through Nasariya and came under fire from a bus full of Iraqi soldiers who were using innocent civilian passengers as human shields," he said. "I did the best I could to get the Rabbi down as low as I could to protect him, while the rest of the unit returned fire and tried to flank the enemy soldiers."

"We came under fire while the Rabbi was ministering to the wounded," said Page. "I heard a slapping noise as bullets came in and hit the ground nearby. I saw one shot hit the ground near the Rabbi's head and said 'That's it, let's go.'"

Elson said Page was very dedicated to his duty as a bodyguard.

"I'm not a small guy, and when RP1 (Page) said 'let's go', he literally picked me up and threw me about five feet away from where the bullets were hitting the ground," Elson said. "I'm so glad that God saw fit to put us together at that place and time."

Page said he and the Rabbi once found themselves between friendly artillery and enemy soldiers hiding inside buildings forward of their position, while they were ministering on the battlefield.

"That's a scary thing," he said. "Seeing your own artillery muzzles being lowered down, and you're out in front of them as they open up almost point blank."

Fear might have been present on the battlefield, but as both Page and Elson put it, faith and friendship helped keep them both going.

"There were times when I would say 'I just can't do this any more,'" said Elson. "Then RP1 would kick me and tell me I'd have to. We did that for each other when one of us would get that way."

Page is a Naval Reservist, with 16 years of prior service in the Marine Corps. Most have been inactive as infantry, but he made the switch to Navy so that he could be associated with military religious ministry, he said.

"I was reactivated last November," Page said. "I just got word Jan. 20 that I'm going back to Iraq."

But he's not worried, Page said.

"I'm traveling with the world's finest. I'm traveling with God."

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