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Petty officer, a 19-year Navy vet, dies in Florida hospital after collapsing in El Salvador

A petty officer assigned to a U.S. Southern Command mission in El Salvador died Tuesday, officials have confirmed.

Master-at-Arms 1st Class Patrick Gilyard, 38, exhibited “signs of a stroke” on Sept. 28 in the Central American nation and was evacuated to the states on Sept. 30, according to U.S. 4th Fleet spokeswoman Cmdr. Kate Meadows.

He died roughly a week later at the Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she said.

The precise cause of Gilyard’s death remains under investigation, but Meadows told Navy Times that “he did not have any COVID-like symptoms prior to his medical emergency.”

“Petty Officer Gilyard served honorably in the Navy for 19 years and this loss is felt by the entire command and the Navy,” she said.

Gilyard was assigned to Cooperative Security Location Comalapa in El Salvador, one of two such locations on existing airfields in the Caribbean and Latin America that SOUTHCOM uses for counter-narcotics missions, according to the combatant command’s site.

MA1 Patrick Gilyard was assigned to Cooperative Security Location Comalapa in El Salvador. (Courtesy of Kameron Carter via PJ Gilyard's Facebook page)
MA1 Patrick Gilyard was assigned to Cooperative Security Location Comalapa in El Salvador. (Courtesy of Kameron Carter via PJ Gilyard's Facebook page)

A Florida native, Gilyard enlisted in 2001, according to his service record.

Among his numerous awards and decorations, Gilyard received: the Navy/Marine Commendation Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, five Navy/Marine Corps Commendation medals, a National Defense Service Medal, an Afghanistan Campaign Medal and Bronze Star, a Global War on Terrorism Medal, a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal and several NATO medals.

His family could not be immediately reached for comment.

A sailor who said he knew Gilyard, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Mark Foster, recalled Gilyard as a gentle giant with a heart to match.

“When it came down to working together, you know, I wouldn’t have anybody else by my side,” Foster told Navy Times. “At first glance, he looked intimidating, but once you got to know him on a somewhat personal level, you’d learn that he had literally and figuratively the biggest heart that anybody could come across.”

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