MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP S. D. BUTLER, OKINAWA, Japan - Sr. Chief Petty Officer Vilma T. Rodriguez received a phone call Dec. 25, Christmas Day, from President Barack Obama, while celebrating the holiday with friends on Camp Shields, Okinawa, Japan.
"In my 18 - almost 19 - years in the Navy I've never experienced anything like this," said Rodriguez, an independent duty corpsman at the Camp Kinser Group Aid Station, and who belongs to Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
"To receive a call from the president, it's a big deal," she added. "I felt honored that he took time to show his concern for the well-being of my family."
The president wished Rodriguez a Merry Christmas, and thanked her for hard work during Operation Damayan, the military relief effort in the Republic of the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan. The Marines assembled with Rodriguez also had an opportunity to wish the president a Merry Christmas.
Calling service members on Christmas has become a tradition for the commander-in-chief, and this year Rodriguez was selected for her admirable performance during Operation Damayan.
Rodriguez responded to the crisis providing essential medical care for the U.S. military response team, but was also affected personally by the storm. Rodriguez, a native of Tacloban, one of the hardest hit areas, lost her brother and cousin to the typhoon. Dealing with her own personal crisis, Rodriguez prioritized the needs of others over her own, dedicating herself to the relief effort.
Rodriguez impressed Master Chief Petty Officer Eric S. Anderson, command master chief of III MEF, who ultimately nominated her for the phone call.
While working alongside her in the Philippines, Anderson and Master Chief Petty Officer Donald C. Schrader, command master chief of 3rd MLG, III MEF, both took note of her selfless attitude despite her personal loss.
"She always had a smile on her face; she was very resourceful," said Schrader. "She had her priorities all in order - to the mission first."
"She's a very humble person, she always puts others before herself," he added. "She's got a heart of gold."