This community shares in the sadness of saying good-bye to our fallen military personnel through our long-running series of IGTNT diaries. That happens all too often. Rarely are we given a chance to look back and consider the far-reaching effects of each and every loss to our nation.
Recently, a news story inspired a re-reading of the tributes to eight brave men from Fort Carson who were lost back in 2009. The lives of the soldiers were remembered in a touching diary by rb137, "IGTNT - There were a lot of heroes on that day".
There were a lot of heroes that day. Sadly, several of those heroes died. Others were wounded in spirit, if not on their bodies. Below is a story about how friendship changed the life of a man who survived an ambush that killed many - the attack which has become known as the Battle of Kamdesh.
After his parents split up, Daniel Rodriguez lived with his father, who had been an Army staff sergeant. Just four days after Dan graduated from high school in 2006, his father died from a heart attack. Rodriguez had thought about attending college, but two weeks after his father’s death, he talked with an Army recruiter. Eight days later, Dan was in Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training and six months later he was promoted to Private First Class.
At age 19, Dan was shipped overseas. His helicopter was fired upon as it entered Iraq, but he arrived safely. Life was hard there. The troops slept 20 to a room and 12 of Rodriguez’s friends were killed, mostly by roadside bombs. During his 15 months in Iraq, he suffered a concussion and took some shrapnel in his leg, but came back to the US ready to train for his next tour.
PFC Rodriquez then spent a year getting used to working in a high altitude at Fort Carson in Colorado to prepare for warfare in a mountainous terrain. During this time he met PFC Kevin Thompson, who would become one of his best friends. Rodriquez talked with his friend about how he had wanted to play college football. The exchange was reported to Fredricksburg.com:
He had tempered his hopes, because he hadn’t been recruited as a senior at Brooke Point High School. And he knew there weren’t many spots for freshmen in their early 20s.Rodriguez was promoted to sergeant while serving a 12-month combat tour Afghanistan. On October 3rd, 2009, he and his friend Kevin were involved in a bloody battle with insurgents who staged an early morning attack. A story in the Washington Post tells how Rodriguez came running when he heard shots during a massive attack on his base:
But Thomson wouldn’t hear it. He made Rodriguez promise that whenever they returned home, whenever they were done fighting the Taliban, he would do whatever it took to play college football.
“All right, man,” Rodriguez told Thomson. “I’ll go for it.”
That day, more than 300 Taliban insurgents attacked the base, inhabited by 53 soldiers. Roughly 300 meters lay between Rodriguez and the machine gun he was supposed to man during such encounters. So Rodriguez, who starred at Brooke Point High as a slot receiver, defensive back and kickoff returner from 2003 to 2005, zigzagged as quickly as he could along an inclined dirt path while off-the-mark bullets kicked rocks at his ankles.The Battle of Kamdesh had unfolded in the eastern mountains of Afghanistan when insurgents ambushed an American force one-fifth its size. The US suffered eight deaths; the invading force lost 150.
Rodriguez arrived at his machine gun just as Kevin Thompson, another soldier, was coming outside. Rodriguez began to load the machine gun, and when he looked back, Thompson was struck in the head by a bullet. He was dead before he hit the ground.
Rodriguez spent the rest of the day killing as many Taliban insurgents as he could. Though just 5 feet 8 and 175 pounds, he twice tried to drag Thompson, who was 6-5 and close to 300 pounds, inside, and each time he was struck by shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade. The first time it struck his right leg. The second time it struck his neck. The metal shards were so hot that his wounds were instantly cauterized. Another soldier had to pull the shrapnel from Rodriguez’s neck with a pair of pliers.
Sergeant Daniel Rodriquez received a Bronze Star for Valor for preventing insurgents from breaching the perimeter of his post. During the battle, 22 US soldiers were wounded. Rodriguez had shrapnel in both legs and in the neck. There was also a bullet fragment in his shoulder. He was awarded a Purple Heart along with the Bronze Star and was honorably discharged a year and two days after the fight. He returned home listless, guilt-ridden and depressed. He started drinking heavily.
A story on the CBS news tells of how the pact Rodriguez made with Thompson helped him turn his life around:
"I made a promise to my best friend that was killed that I was going to play football, and just committed myself to eating right, working out, and quit drinking," Rodriguez said…Rodriguez started training to get back onto the football field and the game that he loved in high school. He took advantage of the GI Bill and enrolled at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia and made the grade to play football at the Division 1 level. In the fall of 2011, a friend helped make a video to get Rodriguez known by potential coaches. Last December, Rodriguez posted the video on YouTube. It went viral.
"I didn't die that day on October 3 because I was meant to do more with my life," He said. "And now I have my buddies in the grave pushing me to be the best that I can be."
While Afghanistan is always on the back of his mind, Rodriguez said "where I am at now in my life trumps everything in a positive way."
The New York Times reported last month about the success Rodriguez has had toward his dream of playing college football:
Rodriguez has played in Clemson’s three games, mostly on special teams. The highlight came two Saturdays ago, when Rodriguez caught a 4-yard pass in the fourth quarter of a 52-27 win over Ball State. The Memorial Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation.Recently, Rodriguez won another award - this time as a civilian. There's a message on Clemson's Tigernet.com
Now, nearly three years after the battle, Rodriguez is proud to wear a different uniform.
“He may only be a walk-on,” said Swinney, “but he’s a team leader to these 18- to 22-year-olds, some of whom have a sense of entitlement or want to feel sorry for themselves or don’t understand the privilege they have.”
"Thank you everyone that voted for me on behalf of the USAA Athletic Inspiration Award. I ended up winning and will be featured on CBS sports on Veterans Day."