Gordon Center Classroom Dedicated to Fallen Soldier
Before his deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2009, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Spino spent hours in a Miller School classroom, strengthening the nursing and team-building skills that helped him save fellow soldiers and civilians wounded in the ongoing war against terrorism.
Killed in Afghanistan almost a year ago, the licensed practical nurse from Connecticut did not return home with the 274th Forward Surgical Team he had so expertly served with for five years. But in a solemn Veterans Day ceremony on Thursday, Spino’s sacrifice was honored and immortalized when the Army Trauma Training Center dedicated the classroom it uses at the Gordon Center for Research in Medical Education the unassuming soldier who was a role model and father figure to his unit.
“He had a steady and even hand,” his commanding officer, Maj. Robert Blease, told Spino’s family and the soldiers, firefighters, physicians and others gathered in the Broad-Bussel Auditorium for the dedication of the classroom and its Wall of Heroes. “You couldn’t rock the man. You couldn’t shake him.’’
UM President Donna E. Shalala, proudly noting that every generation of her family has served in the U.S. Army since their arrival in the United States, said the tribute to Sgt. Spino offered a chance to “keep the light of hope shining in the midst of darkness.’’
“Although we cannot fill the void left by Sgt. Spino’s tragic loss, we can offer those who loved him our promise to never forget his sacrifice,’’ President Shalala said. “The Spino classroom and the Wall of Heroes will help us to fulfill that promise.’’
Jeffrey Augenstein, M.D., Ph.D., professor of surgery and director of the William Lehman Injury Research Center, said the Ryder Trauma Center is honored to be home to the ATTC, and take part in training the forward surgical teams who spend two weeks on the medical campus immersed in the real-time, real-life, team-focused experiences of saving lives before heading to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This war has had perhaps the most catastrophic injuries of any war in history and yet the outcomes from severe injuries have literally been the best in history,’’ Augenstein said. “That is due to the men and woman who put their lives at risk every day to provide care to our injured soldiers.’’
Major General David Rubenstein, who commands the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School, said about 25 percent of the soldiers who suffered gunshot or explosive wounds in previous wars died; today, about half as many die.
“The partial reason for that is what goes on right here. What goes on is the training of surgeons, nurses and their enlisted medical staff so that when they get to Iraq, when they get to Afghanistan, they’re not learning on that first casualty that comes in the door. They’ve seen it. They’ve experienced it,’’ Rubenstein said. “Because of the didactic opportunities in the Gordon Center, because of the hands-on opportunities at the Ryder Trauma Center, this is not exploratory learning.’’
Michael S. Gordon M.D., Ph.D., associate dean for research in medical education who founded the Gordon Center 40 years ago to apply advanced technology to medical education, presented Spino’s widow and daughter a replica of the glass plaque that now graces the entrance of Room 229B: “Staff Sergeant Ronald J. Spino Army Trauma Training Center Classroom for selfless service and dedication to a grateful nation,’’ it says.
Acknowledging that no plaque nor memorial could do justice to Spino’s sacrifice, Lt. Col. George D. Garcia, M.D., assistant professor of surgery and director of the ATTC, pledged that soldiers who walk through the door that now bears his name will strive to live up to his example.
“Please know that, as long as we are here, all who come to train and all who come to visit will see his name and hear his story and he will never be forgotten,’’ Garcia told the Spino family.
Miami’s U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also honored Spino by presenting his father and brother a flag that was flown over the U.S. Capitol in his memory.
Unfortunately, Spino could be saved by neither technology or training when, on December 29, 2009, just a month shy of ending his third tour of duty, he placed himself in harm’s way to protect fellow members of the 274th.
He was, Blease said, helping unload medical supplies from a helicopter at a small forward base in Bala Morghab, Afghanistan, when an agitated Afghan solider approached, waving his weapon. Stepping up, Spino gave his fellow soldiers time to take cover, and was shot several times.“If he hadn’t have stepped forward, from what I’m told, multiple other people would have died,’’ Blease said. “The solider was subdued, and no one else was injured.’’
But now, as Garcia pledged, the plaque outside Room 229B ensures Spino’s sacrifice will not be forgotten. And, inscribed with the words of President John F. Kennedy, another plaque hanging inside, just above Spino’s portrait on the Wall of Heroes, poignantly explains why: “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honors, the men it remembers,’’ it says.