Daniel Rodriguez didn't grow up yearning to be in the military. As a matter of fact, despite his small stature, he set his goals on playing Division I college football. In his senior year of high school he was captain of the football team. The team had a 6-4 record and won a share of the district championship. It was the first time in a decade that his school's football team went to a state playoff game.
However, not unlike many youth in our nation, during his teens his parents split. In his junior year of high school his mother had left the family and moved from Virginia to Texas. A year later his father died unexpectedly from a heart attack. Within three weeks of his father's death Dan was at a recruiter's office signing up to join the Army. Any plans he had to play college football were put on hold if not forgotten.
SGT Rodriguez had previously served a year long tour in Iraq during the surge of 2007. In that deployment he lost twenty of his friends to war. Dan returned from his tour in Iraq with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) caused by being in the vicinity of a plethora of roadside bombs/IEDs.
Thirteen months after returning from his deployment in Iraq, SGT Rodriguez was deployed to Afghanistan with 4th BDE, 4th ID, 3-61 CAV - the Black Knights. In the early morning hours of October 3, 2009 Soldiers from his unit were, mostly, asleep when all hell broke loose on OP Fritsche and COP Keating (Kamdesh) in Nuristan province of eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. Twenty one year old SGT (at the time PVT) Daniel Rodriguez was awake and was checking his email when the first rockets hit COP Keating where he was.
The Battle of COP Keating raged for 24 hours. During the battle, SGT Rodriguez saw one of his best friends, PVT Kevin Thomson, killed. SGT Rodriguez was able to recover his body as the battle raged. SGT Rodriguez, himself, was hit in the shoulder by a bullet and was in close enough proximity of several RPG rounds hitting. He sustained shrapnel in both of his legs and his neck from the blasts of the rockets hitting the combat outpost.
When the battle was finally over COP Keating was little more than a smoldering heap. The majority of the COP had burned during the battle. All 45 of the survivors lost everything except what was on their backs. Many had fought for two days in t shirts, boxer shorts and body armor. Eight American Soldiers died in the battle. Twenty two were wounded. For his efforts that day, SGT Rodriguez was awarded the Bronze Star with Valor. He was also awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds. Many others of his comrades were decorated for their valor that day. There are still at least two awards (neither for SGT Rodriguez) working through the process.
Many of you who read this blog as well as hundred, if not thousands, of Americans joined together to replace the non military person items the survivors lost. You can read about that effort here. Additionally, Mark Seavey spearheaded a drive by the American Legion to aid in assisting the survivors to get back on their feet. Their amazing efforts can be read about here.
It wasn't until October 6th (three days after the battle began) that the survivors were airlifted out to FOB Bostick. Once there they were met by CPT Katie Kopp, the brigade psychologist. I've spoken with some of the men who survived COP Keating and they all credit CPT Kopp with, not only being a huge source of support and comfort for them in the days after the battle but for her continued support even to this day. CPT Kopp has since returned to Afghanistan. From all that the men have spoken about her I can never thank her enough for what she does. I hope to have the privilege of meeting her one day to thank her.
Upon his return from Afghanistan he was diagnosed with both TBI and Post Traumatic Stress (PTS). The demons were constant and fierce. SGT Rodriquez's sister worried about him and what his future would be. SGT Rodriguez left the Army when his enlistment was up. He remembered his dream of playing Division I football and began to work out like a beast. He was doing this for himself and for his fallen brothers.
I urge all of you to watch this video of Dan. He more than inspires me.
I also urge you to read this article (where I grabbed the video).
This past Friday, Dan was given permission to walk on to play college football at Clemson University. He will us his GI Bill to pay for his college. Dan may only stand 5 feet 8 inches tall and weight 175 pounds but to me he is a giant among men. I'm not sure how his heart fits inside his chest.
Here is the original video that was made in Dan's efforts to play college football:
You can read more about Dan here, here and here.
I'm not a football fan but I assure you I will be rooting for Dan and for the Clemson Tigers. GO DAN GO!!! I wish you all the best and cannot wait to read that you have made the team. Regardless of where this goes from here you inspire me. You inspire all those who know you. There is no better role model for anyone in this nation.
One last note for those who follow this blog. Please go to this link to read about and remember the eight Heroes who died at COP Keating on October 3, 2009. Dan, we will NEVER forget your fallen brothers.