By Fonda Bock
USAREC Public Affairs
July 20, 2016
FORT KNOX, Ky. - Nine-year-old Jasmine Caridad has added a Meritorious Service Medal and Soldier's Medal to a box containing the personal effects, uniform, and folded flag of her late father.
Staff Sgt. Luis Caridad, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, recruiter was killed just days before Christmas while saving family members from a house fire in the Dominican Republic, where he'd been on leave to attend a wedding.
Caridad's company commander, Capt. Andrew Nagel, paid a special visit to Jasmine at her home in Fayetteville, North Carolina, July 13, to personally present her the medals.
"She was pretty awe struck," Nagel said. "I knelt down and read the awards to her and described to her what happened and asked if she understood how serious this was and how rare it is to have something like the Soldier's Medal presented, and she said she understood."
According to reports, Caridad woke Dec. 19 to find fire and smoke spreading through his grandmother's home after a lit candle caused the house to catch fire. He pulled his parents from the home then reentered the burning structure three times, saving four adults. The third time, the home was engulfed in flames, which torched a propane tank and then the house exploded. Caridad's body was found with two adults in his arms. A child also perished.
Nagel wasn't surprised to hear of Caridad's heroic actions and immediately recommended him for the Soldier's Medal.
Nagel said a neighbor who assisted Caridad as the recruiter tried to beat in a door to the second floor quoted Caridad as saying, "I did all these successful tours overseas, and I can't get in to save my family."
Nagel said, "The people who were next to him at the time said all they could see on his face was determination and were pretty sure, he knew that if he went in, there was a pretty high chance that he wasn't coming out and there was no hesitation.
"Honestly, that's the way I experienced Staff Sgt. Caridad - as a Soldier, a constant professional, and somebody who didn't hesitate to do the right thing. It really was him. He really was one of my best Soldiers."
Approved in 1926, the Soldier's Medal is the highest award for valor that can be earned outside of combat. Nagel said it's fitting that the first two recipients of this award in 1927 were given it for saving people from a burning building, the same reason it was awarded to Caridad.
Jasmine's mom and Caridad's ex-wife, Amber Gonzales, said, "I think [Jasmine] was proud of him and happy to see he is a hero in people's eyes."
Caridad's parents were presented duplicate medals during a ceremony in Fort Lauderdale May 13 on their son's birthday.
Meeting Jasmine was uplifting for Nagel. He said it was the first time during this tragedy that he'd witnessed someone expressing joy and enthusiasm. He told her, "Make sure you keep these [medals] safe and keep them close."
And she said she would.