2006 Marine of the Year
Staff Sergeant Kent Padmore
Emigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago at age 22 in 1990. Enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in 1994.
HIALEAH, Fla. - The Purple Heart on Kent Padmore's chest isn't for the shrapnel from an enemy rocket-propelled grenade that tore a cheek-to-cheek gash across his face. That wound was never documented; Padmore fixed it himself with a liquid suture in the rearview mirror of his Humvee.
Padmore, a Marine reservist, works in civilian life as a City of Miami Fire-Rescue Department emergency medical technician, so he knew what to do. He patched himself up because he didn't want to steal precious time from the corpsmen in his unit, who were busy treating more seriously wounded Marines. Instead, the Purple Heart he wears is for the second-degree burns on his hands and arms he suffered while dragging 10 Marines out of the burning wreckage of a 7-ton truck on June 23, 2005.
An anti-tank missileman by military specialty, Padmore was leading the security force at a civil-military operations center near Fallujah, Iraq, when he and his Marines were assigned to escort a two-vehicle convoy to Camp Fallujah, 20 minutes away.
The lead 7-ton truck carried a special detail of female Marines trained to search Iraqi women. Padmore and most of his Marines were riding in the back of the trace vehicle when a suicide car bomber crashed into the front of the convoy.
Padmore's driver slammed the brakes and the security detail in the back of the truck tumbled forward as debris from the lead vehicle flew over them.
Padmore, then a sergeant, said he knew it was a mass-casualty situation that could potentially overwhelm the one or two corpsmen on hand. As enemy small-arms fire began barking from rooftops lining the road, he leapt from his vehicle and rushed across 200 yards of open terrain to reach the wounded.
When he made it to the burning vehicle, rounds from its mounted .50-caliber machine gun were cooking off in all directions. Padmore dragged six Marines to cover, left his helmet and weapon with them, and returned to the vehicle to rescue four more people.
Disregarding the burns on both his hands, the native of Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, went into EMT mode, triaging casualties and administering first aid that was later credited with saving the life and leg of one of the wounded Marines. For that, he was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with "V."
Padmore has been an EMT in Miami for eight years. For the last two, he has also worked as a flight medic for Baptist Hospital, a position that required six years' experience "on the street as a paramedic," he said. "I wanted to be able to continue the care of the people I transferred to the helicopter. I wanted to do more," he said.
Around Padmore's fire station, his co-workers know he's too humble to talk about his bravery and compassion, so they do most of the talking for him. Fire Chief Dan Meadows said he wasn't surprised to hear June 8 that the local Navy League was naming Padmore the Broward County, Fla., Marine Reservist of the Year - at a ceremony Padmore had never mentioned. "He serves his community every day … with more heart than most people who were born here," said fellow paramedic Jose Almeida. "But if we didn't say this stuff, nobody would know."
Padmore's co-workers talk about how he still writes to an 8-year-old girl named Farah whom he befriended in Iraq. Padmore said he taught her math when she'd visit him on guard duty, and that when he's with his 5-year-old son, Kemario, he imagines Farah playing alongside him.
Junior Marines idolize Padmore, according to Maj. Chris Guarnieri, inspector-instructor at Padmore's unit.
He's "a very persuasive leader," Guarnieri said. "He doesn't yell or use threats. He has a lot of credibility with the Marines, and they listen to him."