'I can never repay him': JBLM soldier recalled as heroic leader
Not long before Sgt. Jose Rodriguez lost his life in southern Afghanistan, he saved at least one life among the Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers he loved and called brothers.
When his Stryker platoon sergeant and two other soldiers were injured by an explosive in combat last month, Rodriguez used his first-aid training to tend to the wounded.
Sgt. 1st Class Eric Hoover said he was bleeding heavily from his left arm. Even after Rodriguez applied a tourniquet, the flow wouldn’t stop.
When Hoover looked at his arm and discovered a bone protruding, he passed out. He woke to find Rodriguez – or “Rod,” as his friends call him – applying a second tourniquet.
Rodriguez stayed with all three men until a helicopter arrived to take them to safety.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for Sgt. Rodriguez,” Hoover said at a memorial service Wednesday at Lewis-McChord. “I can never repay him for what he’s done.”
Rodriguez, 22, of Gustine, Calif., in the San Joaquin Valley, was shot to death June 19 while serving with Lewis-McChord’s 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Kandahar province.
It was his second year-long Stryker tour in the notoriously hostile region. The brigade deployed there in April.
Rodriguez was known as a fearless leader, role model and friend to his peers in the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.
Soldiers gathered Wednesday at the base to honor him. He is one of 19 soldiers from Lewis-McChord to die in Afghanistan this year, according to Pentagon reports and News Tribune records.
“He (Rodriguez) found ways to make the worst times something worth remembering,” wrote Sgt. Eric Rutland in a letter that was read aloud Wednesday. “He left a lasting impression and he can never be replaced.”
Hoover praised Rodriguez for his superb leadership skills, saying he was among the best team leaders he had.
“The pride he took in himself and his unit was evident,” the platoon sergeant said. “He was a model for the rest of his squad to follow.”
Capt. Brandon Wohlschlegel likewise praised Rodriguez’s leadership. He recalled how, on the day of his death, Rodriguez was asked to carry an extra minesweeper in heat well above 100 degrees. Others might have complained, but not Rodriguez.
Wohlschlegel also wrote of how Rodriguez volunteered for a second tour overseas. For Rodriguez, training his soldiers was not enough; he wanted to be on the front lines fighting with them.
“(Rodriguez) personified what it meant to be a soldier and a leader,” Wohlschlegel wrote. “You served unconditionally and yielded to none.”
Rodriguez joined the Army in 2008 and spent most of his military career at Lewis-McChord. In 2009-10, during his first tour in Afghanistan, his battalion received a presidential commendation for its service alongside Marine units.
Rodriguez was the battalion’s fourth casualty on its current tour. He is survived by his wife, Maria, son, Octavian, and parents, Margarita and Augustine.