Face of defense: Marine helps Afghan forces become accountable

10 Jun 2014 | Army Staff Sgt. Whitney C. Houston The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

June 9, 2014 - Marine Corps 1st Lt. Manuel Ruiz is helping Afghanistan's national security forces learn about accountability.

Ruiz is a Miami native who serves as officer in charge of the NATO-based End Use Monitoring Program and as platoon commander with Landing Support Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 37, 3rd Marine Division, currently serving here with the International Security Assistance Force's Regional Command South.

"In his work, he's honest, trustworthy, hardworking and energetic. ... He's infectious in the way that he leads," said Ruiz's supervisor, Army Lt. Col. Kevin Parrish, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, who serves as deputy chief for the Afghan National Security Forces Development, Alpha Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division.

As an End Use Monitoring Program officer, Ruiz's integrity is central to his mission as he holds Afghan forces in Regional Command South accountable for sensitive items.

"My taskings come down quarterly from NATO in Kabul," Ruiz said. "I make sure that equipment such as weapons, night-vision capabilities and vehicles that U.S. and coalition forces have given them are taken care of and not falling into the wrong hands."

As a crucial focus in his efforts, Ruiz said, he attempts to bring the Afghan forces up to speed by helping them convert their equipment accountability system from analog to digital.

"Part of helping the ... transition is moving all their equipment lists from an old ledger style to a computer-based system," said he said. "This allows them to more freely edit, print, disseminate it, or just to keep better accountability of it."

Ruiz's overall mission is to advise and assist the Afghan forces in taking care of their own equipment and becoming more accountable and self-sufficient.

"He doesn't just go and do an inspection," Parrish said. "He goes and mentors them on procedures to make sure they're doing a good job. He looks at how they run their arms rooms and gives advice on how to run them more efficiently, or how to improve security."

Ruiz said he is confident that his efforts will yield results, and with a bit more time, he added, he believes the Afghan forces will be fully ready to sustain themselves.

"For the most part, the [Afghan army] is good to go." He said. "They maintain things, and they get the importance of accountability. I feel they'll do well in taking things over. There are smaller groups that still need mentoring, but they'll learn with time."

Ruiz said his drive to succeed comes from a deeply rooted patriotism he has obtained after moving with his family to the United States from Ecuador. It has provided him and his family the resources to succeed, he added.

"We came to the United States in '95 from Quito, Ecuador, when I was 9, and it has been a phenomenal place. I am a true believer in the American dream," he said. "My brother is an airline pilot, my sister is a psychologist, and my little sister just got accepted to one of the best programs for her master's degree in Boston. This country has given us what we've needed to succeed. Joining the military was the least I could do to give back."

Ruiz said he initially had a desire to join the Marine Corps in 2004, when he was 17 years old. His parents, Nelson and Monica Ruiz, were concerned with his decision, he added, so they signed a waiver for the Navy instead. He joined the Navy knowing that he would eventually have a shot with the Marine Corps, he said.

He left for boot camp in February 2005, subsequently finished his skill training and was stationed at Naval Station Ingleside, Texas, aboard the USS Shrike and the USS Robin. While going through what he described as "cranking" -- a process that all recruits go through -- he made an important decision.

"While cranking, you're the first one on the ship and the last one off, and during this time I was thinking to myself that I needed to get my education," Ruiz said, "so I started doing college courses on base."

Not long after he started doing college courses, Ruiz said, he was noticed by his executive officer at the time, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shawn Bohrer.

"He helped me go through the process to get into the [U.S. Naval Academy], and I got in," Ruiz said. "Along the way, he was always checking on me and mentoring me, and he actually came to my graduation." Bohrer is nearing retirement, he added, and the two have remained close.

As he wraps up his tour in Afghanistan, Ruiz said, he believes he has made a lasting contribution. His efforts have included planning and executing seven End Use Monitoring Program missions throughout Regional Command South, serving in various roles for 67 combat missions, and overseeing the transfer of more than 18,000 items valued at $1.8 million from coalition forces to Afghan forces.

Ruiz said he plans on returning to back to his home station in Okinawa, Japan, and eventually moving to Camp Pendleton, California.