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Good gear, strong faith keeps Marine in the fight

15 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

There's no question Lance Cpl. Richard C. Guillenavila earned the nickname "Bulletproof."

While he was standing guard duty at the Government Center of Ramadi June 13, the 19-year-old from Company G, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, was shot right above his bellybutton by an enemy sniper.

But not even a bullet could stop the Jacksonville, Fla., Marine. The Small Arms Protective Insert inside his protective vest stopped the 7.62 mm round before it caused any harm to Guillenavila.

The ceramic plate is capable of stopping small-arms fire and fragmentation from weapons such as improvised explosive devices and mortar rounds.

Guillenavila said the extra weight from his front and back plates never bothered him.

Little did he know they would one day save his life.

The day had started out like any other. Every three days, Guillenavila's squad assumes duty on the roof of the government center, which is an attractive location for terrorist attacks.

"I was providing overwatch looking for improvised explosive devices and things like that when the next thing I knew, I was suddenly knocked to the ground," Guillenavila explained.

It took him less than a second to realize what happened.

"It felt like someone punched me in my stomach really hard," said Guillenavila, describing the sensation of being shot.

As soon as he caught his breath, the Marine called out for help. His close friend, Lance
Cpl. Eric S. Hamilton, remembered the scene.

"I was standing watch on the northeast side of the building and Guillenavila was on the southeast side," Hamilton, of Brockport, N.Y., said. "I was talking with the corpsman and
our platoon commander when we heard the shot."

Only a few seconds elapsed between the time the shot rang out and Guillenavila, also known as Cuban B, called for medical attention.

"At first, all I could think was, 'Damn, Cuban B's been shot,'" added 18-year-old Hamilton.  "But I knew somehow that he was going to be alright."

Hamilton isn't quite sure why or how he knew Guillenavila would be fine; he "just knew it would be OK."

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Erik O. Cordaway, a hospital corpsman with Company G, wasn't as optimistic as he checked over Guillenavila.

"I was expecting the worst," 21-year-old Cordaway said. "I thought the bullet went right through his SAPI plate, but it hit two inches from the bottom."

When the corpsman gave Guillenavila the good news, the Marine didn't hesitate to get back behind his weapon. He ignored the intense pain in his stomach to return to his post.

"I got back up and was trying to aim in on whoever shot me," explained Guillenavila, who has already seen his fair share of firefights.

Marines from the squad rushed to the area to find the shooter, but the sniper had already fled away from the scene.

"We were very disappointed not to find the guy who shot Guillenavila," Hamilton said. "There isn't anything we'd like more than to find guys who shoot at Marines."

Still, Guillenavila doesn't dwell on the events of June 13, but he is glad to be alive. He suffered no injuries from the impact, and the pain ceased shortly after he was shot.

He credits the SAPI plate for saving his life, but believes also that he was not supposed to die that day.

"God was definitely looking out for me," said Guillenavila, who hopes to one day become the sergeant major of the Marine Corps. "It wasn't my time to go. I need to be here continuing the fight."

When he returned to the camp here, Guillenavila and some of the Marines from his squad dug the bullet out of the plate. They found it in three pieces inside the plate's layers.
All three pieces are now in a plastic bag inside Guillenavila's pocket.

"It's my newest lucky charm," he said.