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A man of honor: the story of Staff Sergeant Chris Ramakka

by Lt. Col. John Prater
6th Civil Engineer Squadron

Men of Honor is a memorable movie, made in 2000. It's a story about a pioneer in the military, Carl Brashear (played by Cuba Gooding Jr), who became the first African- American sailor to complete the Navy Diver program. The movie is a vintage American "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" story.

Carl Brashear entered the Navy in 1948 into the steward branch, where he cooked and served officers. After 12 years of appeal and pursuit to become a Navy diver, he failed the Navy dive school in 1960. Initially devastated, he found the resolve to persevere and became the first-class deep-sea salvage diver in 1964.

In 1966, while helping to recover a nuclear weapon that had fallen into the Mediterranean Sea after a plane crash, Mr. Brashear was critically injured by a falling pipe was hurled across the boat. The pipe struck his left leg, ultimately resulting in its amputation. He ultimately adapted to his amputation and continued as a Navy deep diver As we all know, similar injuries are all too common today, as our brave Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coastguardsmen and Marines are sacrificing each day as part of operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

On June17, Staff Sgt. Christopher Ramakka (aka "Ram"), of our own 6th Air Mobility Wing, sacrificed like Mr. Brashear while deployed in support of OEF. Similar to Mr. Brashear, Sergeant Ramakka was on a weapon recovery/disposal mission when the incident happened. He was preparing to recover and load enemy rockets for disposal. He was eager to answer the call and do his part to eliminate terrorist tools. The area was dotted by footprints of U.S. military whom had worked and surveyed the area prior to his arrival. During the operation, he had the incredible misfortune of hitting and triggering a buried land mine. The resulting explosion mangled his left leg and injured his right hand; the leg was later amputated. The real story of Sergeant Ramakka is not what happened during the incident and that he sacrificed his limb for freedom, not that he was an incredibly intelligent and excellent Explosive Ordinance Disposal tech, not that he was in the wrong spot, on the wrong day on a mission to protect others from dangerous weapons…the story is what occurred after.

In the past days and weeks since his incident, Ram has been the model of spirit, selflessness and perseverance. Within hours of his incident, he joked with his wife over the phone that he would have a great Halloween costume now as a pirate, with his eventual prosthetic leg. When he arrived at Ramstein AB, Germany, two days after the incident, he was greeted by Gen. Robert Foglesong, U.S. Air Forces Europe commander. The only thing he asked for was that General Foglesong to call his wife, Sonja and tell her he was ok. He arrived at Wilford Hall two days later and was clammering for a study guide so he could study for his technical sergeant test. In short, Ram is a true model of spirit, selflessness and perseverance.

When I spoke to “Ram” June 23 at Wilford Hall, he told me how much he loved the movie Men of Honor, even before the incident. It's not clear exactly how Sergeant Ramakka's story will play out, but just like Mr. Brashear, he has already proven himself as a "Man of Honor."

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