"As a mother, we're always afraid for our children," Martha Saavedra said.
And when she received word that her son had been shot during a gunfight in the Iraqi war, her fears became real.
"For me, it was horrible," she said. "My life stopped. I'm still numb."
Rudy Saavedra, 31, was climbing into the gunner's turret atop a Humvee military vehicle to relieve a fellow soldier on patrol, when a sniper's bullet sliced through a vertebra. The battalion was scanning for improvised explosive devices in a known hotbed of insurgent activity.
"It's a pretty hostile area; it's actually known as the 'Triangle of Death,'" Rudy Saavedra said. "It's a long-known spot where a lot of kidnappings and killings happen."
The bullet hit him from the left side, missing his flack vest by a half inch.
"At first you don't know exactly what it is," he said. "My whole body stiffened up. It was like a firecracker went off right next to me."
Rudy Saavedra shouted out for someone to get behind the turret gun as members of battalion rushed to his aid.
"I grabbed a cigarette from my buddy, and it was the best cigarette I ever had — because I thought it was my last," he said.
He was rushed away in a helicopter for medical attention. When he awoke weeks later at Walter Reed Army Medical in Washington, D.C., his parents were at his side.
"I didn't know what was happening," he said. "I couldn't move; there were tubes coming out of me; I was in so much pain."
Though he is beginning to regain sensation in his legs, doctors give him slim odds of walking again — a prognosis he is loath to accept.
"My goal is to walk again — and I will walk again," he said. "Do I know when? No. But I will walk again. I may not be able to run as fast as I used to; I think my running days are over. I just take life as it comes…. I'm just happy to have what I have."
At Friday's ceremony, Brig. Gen. Jim Combs referenced a letter from Rudy Saavedra's battalion, praising his performance in battle.
"They were clear that if it wasn't for his accuracy with a weapon and his courage under fire that others would have suffered or something even worse," Combs said.
Rudy Saavedra's road to recovery is ongoing. He and his family shared excitement recently when he regained the ability to wiggle his right big toe. His is currently looking for a facility in Burbank that offers good treatment for spinal chord injuries.
"The little things I used to take for granted like standing up and walking outside — now for me it's like an ordeal," he said. "Pretty much I just want to live a nice quiet life and I hope my buddies are OK. I feel bad that I can't be there with them. I just miss my buds."