Soldiers’ gift to Marco’s firefighters

From combat rescue missions in the Middle East to MIFD’s Fire Station 51

Lance Shearer
Surrounded by Marco Island firefighters including Chief Mike Murphy, right, Scott Greenwell, left, father of the command pilot, and MIFD Capt. Leo Rodriguez hold the departmental flag that flew along on the Army missions. The Marco Island Fire-Rescue Dept. had a departmental flag flown on combat medevac missions on an Army helicopter in Syria, and signed by all the crew, including the command pilot, who has a personal connection.

There is a kinship between firefighters and military personnel. Sometimes it’s personal.

Due to the personal connection between the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department and the command pilot of an Army HH-60 Blackhawk medical evacuation helicopter deployed in the Middle East combat zone, the MIFD will have a special memento placed in their soon-to-be-dedicated new firehouse in the north end of Marco Island.

A departmental flag, emblazoned with the symbol and words “Marco Island Fire Rescue” was flown aboard the helicopter on several combat missions, then signed by all its crew members and returned to the fire department. The three-foot by five-foot flag is being framed to grace the walls of Station 51.

The connection comes from MIFD Capt. Leo Rodriguez. He and his best friend from childhood, Scott Greenwell, went to elementary school, junior high and high school – Avalon Elementary, Gulf Coast Middle School, and Lely High School – together, and enlisted in the U.S. Army together in 1992.

“I wasn’t even going to enlist – I was just giving him a ride,” said Rodriguez, “but the recruiter got me too.”

Rodriguez left the Army and went to fire academy, while Greenwell stayed for over 20 years. And his son, R.D. Greenwell, joined up as well, becoming the command pilot of a Blackhawk air ambulance.

“He’s deployed with the Army in northern Iraq, somewhere between Jordan, Syria and Kuwait,” said Scott Greenwell. “I can’t say exactly where.” His son was recently put in for the Air Medal, a prestigious Army decoration, after rescuing a wounded service member during a mission in which they took hostile fire both going in and coming out.

The Blackhawk is not armed but is flanked on each mission by two Apache helicopter gunships. The MIFD flag survived intact, and does not show any bullet holes, which is also true of the crew. The flag came back to the department accompanied by a certificate signed by the entire helicopter crew.

Interestingly, along with Pilot in Command Robert Greenwell, CW2, or warrant officer, the certificate is signed by Patricia Osborn, CW2, pilot; Elaine Spruill, flight paramedic, Rebekah Nichols, flight paramedic, and Sgt. Kyla Farrow, crew chief. Without being sexist, one cannot help noticing that 80 percent of the crew of this aircraft flying combat missions is female.

The crew and other members of the unit signed the flag, too, with something like a Sharpie, adding words of encouragement.

“Because you do what you do, we can do what we do,” reads one message. Robert Greenwell’s message reads, “Hey Uncle Leo, thank you all for this flag. Hope all is going well – R.D.”

“He still calls me uncle,” noted Rodriguez. He said he and the senior Greenwell were “sitting around having a beer” when they came up with the idea to send a flag to fly with the Army.

“They generally transport an American flag with every mission,” said Scott. “I got a hold of R.D., and he said send a flag over and we’ll fly it on a couple of missions.”

Along with the new flag, and the new Station 51 scheduled to be reopened on March 15, the department also has a new truck. The unit, designated Tower 50, replaced a nearly 20-year-old tower truck, and with a reach of 110 feet, “is the tallest in the county,” said MIFD Chief Mike Murphy. Department members used the new tower as a background for a group photo with the flag.

“This flag symbolizes that the connection between the military’s mission and the fire department’s mission still remains,” said Murphy, saying the symbolism was emphasized on 9/11/2001. “It’s more of an honor for us, that the military personnel actually chose to carry our flag.”

If you go

Fire Station 51 Dedication

  • 3:30 p.m., Friday, March 15 (open house until 6 p.m.)
  • 751 East Elkcam Circle, Marco Island