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News | Sept. 11, 2015

CENTCOM honors veteran with Defense of Freedom Medal

By By Marine Cpl. Jordan Belser, U.S. Central Command Public Affairs

MACDILL AFB, Fla. (September 11, 2015) – On August 4, 2010, Richard Cicero’s life changed forever.

Cicero fell victim to an improvised explosive device attack near Kandahar, Afghanistan, resulting in the loss of his right arm and right leg. After being evacuated to a medical facility in Germany, Cicero realized what he had to do.

“I was in the hospital, my son was there and I had no time to gripe,” Cicero said. “I had to go forward and look to the future.”

Cicero, a former U.S. Army Paratrooper, was a civilian contractor IED dog handler assigned to Task Force Kandahar (Counter-IED) with the Canadian Armed Forces when he was severely wounded while on patrol in Panjwa’I Disctrict, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

“As we moved through the area, my dog pulled off the patrol route, hooked back and alerted. At that moment I realized the IED was between the dog and me,” Cicero said. “I hit the pressure plate before I could alert the patrol.”

Cicero lost his right arm above the elbow and his right leg above the knee.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Peter A. Gallagher, Director of the Command and Control, Communications and Computer Systems Directorate at U.S. Central Command, presented Cicero with the Defense of Freedom Medal today, honoring his sacrifice and dedication to his country.

The Defense Freedom Medal is the civilian equivalent to the Purple Heart.

Gallagher highlighted the importance of selfless men and women like Cicero and thanked him for his unwavering service and patriotism.

“Rick Cicero comes from a family of service,” Gallagher said. “And as we think about 14 years ago on this date, it’s the men and women like Rick who have made sure something like that hasn’t happened again.”

In 2013, Cicero was awarded the Canadian Chief of the Defense Staff Commendation for actions that occurred four days before his fateful incident. After a Canadian soldier on his team was struck by an IED, Cicero quickly cleared the area of secondary devices and assisted in evacuating the wounded soldier from the area. The award is presented to those who “perform a deed or activity beyond the demands of normal duty, and under exceptional circumstances.”

The road to recovery has been challenging, but Cicero has continued to thrive by training dogs for police, military and medical service. He also passionately supports programs that motivate and challenge wounded veterans.

Cicero says he believes in respect and treating the wounded like the proud service members they are.

“I treat them like soldiers,” Cicero said. “That’s it.”

Cicero has a few words of encouragement for those who have been seriously wounded in combat.

“Stay true to yourself. The heart and soldiering skills that got you through combat are the same skills that will get you through life.”