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Issa Headshot

USF student receives highest non-combat award from U.S. Marine Corps

Captain Puffer and Issa with his award

One year ago, U.S. Marine Sgt. Amed Issa was kneeling outside of a packed restaurant in Waikiki, Hawaii, applying lifesaving aid to a shooting victim’s 23 fresh gunshot wounds. As those around him ran away from the seemingly never-ending barrage of gunfire, Issa placed himself directly in the center of the chaos, using his shirt and a fork as a makeshift tourniquet and praying for a miracle.

Now a first-year exercise science student in the College of Education at the University of South Florida (USF), Issa has been awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal – the highest noncombat decoration awarded for heroism by the U.S. Department of the Navy to members of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. But to him, his actions weren’t heroic or worthy of an award. 

“There’s no way I could let someone die alone on a sidewalk,” said Issa. “The only award I wanted from that night was him surviving.”

After his best friend and retired Marine Corps Sgt. Michael McCroan, who served with him for six years, fastened the medal to Issa’s uniform at Monday’s award ceremony, Issa thought of only one word of advice as he turned to speak to the attending Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) unit: humility.

“At the end of the day, we’re all living breathing humans, and we just want to live a happy life,” said Issa. “Someone might be wealthier or in a better social stature, but that doesn’t make them better than anyone else. We all deserve an equal amount of respect.”

While it is seemingly uncommon to not want to be recognized for one’s good deeds, especially at such a high caliber, those around him were not surprised by his reaction.

“Issa has more humility than I do,” said Captain Michael Puffer, commanding officer of the Naval ROTC at USF. “Do not congratulate him – but thank him for being the man he is.”

At the time of the shooting, Issa was a platoon sergeant for third battalion, third marine regiment and stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Having already been accepted into the Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program, he was deciding between universities and quickly landed on USF as his future home. Issa chose USF because of its large veteran community, diversity, and support for veterans that he says he didn’t see at other colleges.

“I’m inspired by the passion of my professors,” said Issa. “The campus is alive, and there is always something to do and opportunities to be surrounded by supportive people.” 

Fueled by his passion for helping others, Issa hopes to teach people how to have the courage to act and take the initiative to step forward to help when others take a step back. He wants to teach others what he learned in the Marines and plans to couple that with his exercise science degree from the College of Education and recent certification as a personal trainer. Above all, he hopes to instill confidence in them and emphasize the connection between physical and mental well-being. 

“I want to give people the confidence that they don’t have in themselves,” said Issa.

With the support of USF and the U.S. Marine Corps, Issa explained that his future opportunities are endless. After graduation, he will commission as officer in Marine Corps and work toward his goal to be pilot. Then he plans to further his education in a medical program or in exercise science and maybe become a teacher.

“I just want to be someone who has a positive impact on people,” said Issa. “I found my purpose that night, and I hope others can find theirs too.”

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About the USF College of Education:

As the home for more than 2,200 students and 130 faculty members across three campuses, the University of South Florida College of Education offers state-of-the-art teacher training and collegial graduate studies designed to empower educational leaders. Our college is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and our educator preparation programs are fully approved by the Florida Department of Education.