On Patrol

Until every one comes home | The Magazine of the USO

Balancing duties as a soldier and a mother of three, one of whom is a special needs child, is just one of the challenges Army Sgt. Shanna Rodriguez has faced in her life. 

Rodriguez, a health care specialist assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, entered service much later in life than most soldiers.

Rodriguez said the spark to enlist ignited when her Marine father shared his photo album with her when she was 12 years old, but her plans changed when she married her high school sweetheart and started a family. Her husband joined the Army in 2000, and she raised their three sons during his service here and his foreign deployments. 

Then when her second-eldest son turned 8 years old, he was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome by an Army doctor and given a life expectancy of 12 to 20 years. Sanfilippo syndrome is metabolism disorder that makes the body unable to properly break down long chains of sugar molecules called glycosaminoglycans.

Army Sgt. Shanna Rodriguez a mother of three, serves as a health care specialist at Fort Carson, Colo. Her middle child suffers from a rare metabolic disorder. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Howard Army Sgt. Shanna Rodriguez a mother of three, serves as a health care specialist at Fort Carson, Colo. Her middle child suffers from a rare metabolic disorder. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Howard

I Can’t Protect Him From It’

“To find out that your son has something that there’s no treatment or cure, that hit us really hard,” Rodriguez said. “As a parent, you want to protect your kids. I can’t protect him from it. There’s nothing that I can do.”

She said she and her husband suffered through a gamut of emotions but eventually realized the need to focus on their son’s life.

“He’s here and he’s healthy, and regardless of what the doctors are telling me, he’s still my son and I’m going to treat him just like my other children,” Rodriguez said. “Since that day, we don’t care about the little things. We just want to give him the best while he is here.”

Rodriguez’s husband was honorably discharged from the Army in 2007 and the family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, where she worked as a 911 dispatcher. She said she lost her medical insurance when the city started going bankrupt.

Army Enlistment

In early 2010, Rodriguez decided to enlist in the Army so her husband would be able to spend time with their children and to get medical coverage for her son.

To get her ready for joining the military, Rodriguez’s former noncommissioned officer husband helped her drop from 220 to 176 pounds over 10 months so she would be able to meet Army enlistment requirements. She enlisted as a health care specialist in April 2011 and was stationed here in December 2011, where she continues to improve her fitness.

“I love the discipline and the Army organization as a whole,” she said.

Rodriguez graduated with honors from the Fort Carson Warrior Leader Course last month, sang the national anthem at her graduation, and her essay, “Warrior Ethos Goes Beyond the Battlefield,” was published in the post newspaper.

“I think that all of the commitment and dedication it took to raise her children, coupled with her professionalism, created a rare soldier,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Jermaine Davison, her battalion’s command sergeant major.

Plans a Career in Army Counterintelligence

Rodriguez said she plans to pursue a career in Army counterintelligence and to enjoy every moment with her sons. Her youngest is 12, her son with Sanfilippo syndrome is now 17, and her eldest is 18 and currently talking with military recruiters.

“She has a very deep and profound life story that has brought her to this point,” said Army Sgt. Matthew O’Neil, a health care specialist with Company C, 4th BSB, 1st SBCT, 4th Infantry Division, who worked with Rodriguez. “She’s one of the things that is right about the Army.”

Fire at Night

November 28, 2014, 9:25AM

Marines carry out a fire mission during an exercise on Camp Pendleton, California. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean R. Berry Marines carry out a fire mission during an exercise on Camp Pendleton, California. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jamean R. Berry

Volunteers, Airmen Give Back

November 26, 2014, 9:11AM

Airmen, family and friends place donated food items in bags on McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Volunteers assembled about 200 Thanksgiving baskets and first sergeants delivered them to airmen in need of a helping hand. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Fadenrecht Airmen, family and friends place donated food items in bags on McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Volunteers assembled about 200 Thanksgiving baskets and first sergeants delivered them to airmen in need of a helping hand. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tara Fadenrecht

Snow Blowers

November 25, 2014, 11:07AM

National Guard airmen use snow blowers to remove snow from the roof of the Eden Heights Nursing Home in West Seneca, N.Y., Nov. 21, 2014. New York National Guard photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Frederic TrunzoNational Guard airmen use snow blowers to remove snow from the roof of the Eden Heights Nursing Home in West Seneca, N.Y., Nov. 21, 2014. New York National Guard photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Frederic Trunzo

Shortly after President Barack Obama announced that he had accepted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s resignation today, Hagel issued a statement to the men and women of the Defense Department.

Here is the text of the secretary’s statement:

I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that this morning, President Obama accepted my letter of resignation. I have agreed to continue to serve as Secretary of Defense until my successor is confirmed by the United States Senate.

You should know I did not make this decision lightly. But after much discussion, the President and I agreed that now was the right time for new leadership here at the Pentagon.

I want you to know that I am immensely proud of what we have accomplished together. We have prepared ourselves, our Allies and the Afghan National Security Forces for a successful transition in Afghanistan. We have taken the fight to ISIL and, with our Iraqi and coalition partners, have blunted the momentum of this barbaric enemy. We have come to the aid of millions of people around the world who have suffered the ravages of natural disaster and of disease. We have worked tirelessly to sustain our all-volunteer force that has given so much during 13 years of war. And we have bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships, all the while setting in motion important reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges facing us in the decades to come.

Most importantly, we have helped keep this country and our fellow citizens safe. We have sustained the blessings of liberty our ancestors secured and upheld the oath we took.

That work will continue. It must continue. The world is still too dangerous, the threats too numerous, for us to lose focus. And even as I promised the President my full support going forward, so, too, do I promise that I will work hard to support you right up until my last day in office. I owe you that.

There will be time later to say farewell. For now, please know how much I respect and admire your service and that of your families. As I gather with my own family this Thanksgiving holiday -- a luxury I realize not all of you will enjoy -- it will be the privilege of having worked with you these last two years for which I will be most grateful.

Thank you for all you do for this country. God bless you. 

Volleyball is Exhausting

November 24, 2014, 12:30PM

A service dog lies on the lap of Staff Sgt. August O'Niell during an Air Force wounded, ill or injured warrior sitting volleyball practice at the Joint Base Andrews West Fitness Center in Maryland. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian FergusonA service dog lies on the lap of Staff Sgt. August O'Niell during an Air Force wounded, ill or injured warrior sitting volleyball practice at the Joint Base Andrews West Fitness Center in Maryland. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Brian Ferguson

More than 500 New York National Guard soldiers and airmen today are helping people dig out from a monster snowstorm that hit Buffalo and other areas of western New York state earlier this week. 

National Guard members will conduct snow removal, traffic control, and emergency medical personnel movement missions, officials said.

Soldiers have also been clearing paths at disabled residents’ group homes at the request of the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities and that mission will continue. New York Army National Guard military police have been assisting local law enforcement officials by conducting health and wellness visits in Boston and Clarence to check on residents.

New York Army National Guardsmen remove snow in Buffalo, N.Y., on Nov. 20. More than 500 Guard members are supporting response and recovery efforts following historic amounts of snowfall in western New York. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Ray Lloyd New York Army National Guardsmen remove snow in Buffalo, N.Y., on Nov. 20. More than 500 Guard members are supporting response and recovery efforts following historic amounts of snowfall in western New York. U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Ray Lloyd

Sixty soldiers will continue to remove snow from the roof of the Eden Heights Nursing Home in West Seneca.

Equipment on hand includes two large Air Guard runway clearance snow blowers, 17 Bobcats, 2 D-8 bulldozers, 13 front end loaders, 34 dump trucks, and 50 Humvees. More equipment will be deployed as required. Troops clearing rooftops have also been equipped with small snow blowers.

Soldiers performing the mission are assigned to the 153rd Troop Command and 152nd Engineer Company from Buffalo, the 827th Engineer Company in Horseheads, the 1152nd Engineer Company from Kingston, the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion in Rochester, the 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry which has elements in Buffalo, Jamestown and Niagara Falls, the 105th Military Police Company in Buffalo, and the 42nd Infantry Division.

Air National Guard airmen supporting the mission are assigned to the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, and the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.

New York Army National Guard tractor-trailers are providing long-haul transportation support to the New York State Department of Homeland Support and Emergency Services and other state agencies by transporting supplies in snow-impacted areas of the state.

Read more here.

With Honor

November 21, 2014, 12:25PM

Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jennifer Usenick reads the list of fallen military members at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amber L. PorterNavy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jennifer Usenick reads the list of fallen military members at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Amber L. Porter

Snow Day

November 20, 2014, 9:34AM

A New York National Guard airman removes snow from the roof of the Eden Heights Assisted Living Facility in West Seneca, N.Y., on Nov. 19. U.S. National Guard photo by Maj. Mark FrankA New York National Guard airman removes snow from the roof of the Eden Heights Assisted Living Facility in West Seneca, N.Y., on Nov. 19. U.S. National Guard photo by Maj. Mark Frank

Happy to be Home

November 19, 2014, 10:18AM

Navy Cmdr. Raymond Barnes holds his daughter during his squadron's homecoming on Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va. Barnes is the executive officer assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 87, which returned home after a nine-month deployment on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alysia R. HernandezNavy Cmdr. Raymond Barnes holds his daughter during his squadron's homecoming on Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va. Barnes is the executive officer assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron 87, which returned home after a nine-month deployment on the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Alysia R. Hernandez

Raptors and Lightning

November 18, 2014, 5:03PM

F-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs fly in formation over Eglin Training Range, Fla., after completing an integration training mission on Nov. 5. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Shane A. CuomoF-22 Raptors and F-35 Lightning IIs fly in formation over Eglin Training Range, Fla., after completing an integration training mission on Nov. 5. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo

A former Army Ranger who worked to aid victims of the conflict in Syria personified altruism and compassion, in stark contrast to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists who murdered him, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last night.

In a statement he issued on behalf of all men and women of the Defense Department, Hagel extended condolences to the family of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, also known as Peter Kassig, whose beheading was shown in a video ISIL released via social media.

"[Kassig] time and again volunteered his service during times of war -- first as an Army Ranger in Iraq, and later as a devoted humanitarian, providing aid to victims of the conflict in Syria," Hagel said. "Like his fellow veterans of the 9/11 generation, his strong desire to continue making a difference in the world after serving in uniform -- to continue leading a life of purpose -- is an inspiration to us all."

The murder is one more reminder of ISIL's "ruthless barbarity," the secretary said. "There is no starker contrast between the inhumanity of ISIL and the bright and generous spirit of the young man they murdered," he added. "As we join his loved ones in mourning his loss, we also celebrate his service, and we celebrate his commitment -- a lifetime commitment to, as he said, 'stand beside those who might need a helping hand.'"

Hagel called Kassig a young American who personified the values of altruism and compassion that are "the very essence of his adopted religion of Islam."

"This was a young man who traveled to one of the world's most dangerous places to care for the innocent victims of a bloody conflict, and fearlessly dedicated himself to helping those in need," the secretary said. "There can be no greater contrast than that between Abdul-Rahman's generosity of spirit and the pernicious evil of ISIL."

Hagel noted that during his 13 months in captivity, Kassig's family, the entire U.S. government and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly from his home state of Indiana "worked to avoid this tragic outcome."

"His mother's searing plea directed to his captors is unforgettable," the secretary added. "The fact that her appeal went unheeded is only further testament to the wicked inhumanity of the ISIL terrorists who have taken her son from her. Just as we witnessed with Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, the sincere efforts of so many to bring home innocent hostages have been met with blood and barbarity."

Hagel said the nation can draw inspiration from the "remarkable" devotion the slain aid worker's parents, Ed and Paula Kassig, had for their son.

"They never stopped trying to bring him home. They never gave up," he said. "The Kassigs raised a young man who was courageous and selfless to the core, and after seeing the way his family fought on his behalf, it is clear those virtues define the entire family that loved him so much." 

Sinai Salute

November 13, 2014, 2:10PM

Members of the Nevada National Guard currently serving as the 1st Support Battalion, Task Force Sinai, perform the 21-gun salute during the Multinational Force and Observer's annual Remembrance Day ceremony on North Camp in Sinai, Egypt. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas DuvalMembers of the Nevada National Guard currently serving as the 1st Support Battalion, Task Force Sinai, perform the 21-gun salute during the Multinational Force and Observer's annual Remembrance Day ceremony on North Camp in Sinai, Egypt. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Duval

Army Sgt. Anthony Nunez knows how to take a punch, but he can dish them out too.

Nunez, a Patriot missile launching station operator/maintainer assigned to 2nd Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery out of Camp Carroll, South Korea, recently earned the title of All-Army light welterweight boxing champ during the Army’s 2014 competition held at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Sept. 12 and 13.

“I can still remember my first match,” Nunez said. “I was nervous and excited. My whole family was there to watch. And I lost in just seconds. My little brother was crying.”

But Nunez said this didn’t prevent him from getting back into the ring.

Current All-Army light welterweight boxing champ, then-Spc. Anthony Nunez, right, delivers a right hook to Spc. Adrian McKinney during the 2013 All-Army Boxing Championships at the Barnes Field House at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, last year. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert England Current All-Army light welterweight boxing champ, then-Spc. Anthony Nunez, right, delivers a right hook to Spc. Adrian McKinney during the 2013 All-Army Boxing Championships at the Barnes Field House at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, last year. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Robert England

“It wasn’t even an option [to quit],” he said.

Nunez was introduced to boxing while attending college in New York. He later joined the Army with its boxing program in mind.

“As soon as I arrived to Korea, I knew I wanted to apply for boxing camp,” Nunez said.

However, the application deadline for the training camp had past. Again, Nunez refused to be counted out. He decided to go pro. And after arranging his first bout and preparing professional license paperwork, Nunez was approached by the local sports director.

“I was in the gym and I saw this guy with an incredible skill, crazy old-style skill, and I asked him where he boxed,” said Carlos Algarin, Camp Carroll’s sports director. “He told me he was about to have his first professional fight in a Korean ring downtown.”

“I convinced him to hold off on the fight to keep his amateur status. I told him All-Army boxing could be his ticket to bigger, better things,” Algarin said.

Algarin encouraged Nunez to submit his application for the All-Army boxing camp, despite the deadline.

Nunez and 39 other soldiers arrived to attend the boxing camp in 2013. Only 25 soldiers remained by the start of the All-Army boxing competition.

Competition at that level “isn't for everyone,” Nunez said. “The workouts and regimen are really challenging and when you add the very strict diet along with it, fatigue really comes into play.”

Nunez attended two All-Army boxing camps, and he earned his title in the 2014 All-Army boxing competition as the light welterweight champ.

He continues to train. Nunez runs five days a week -- three long-distance runs and two days of sprints. Five days a week he conducts boxing drills and he spars at least two days out of the week. Throughout the week Nunez performs calisthenics and plyometric workouts, in addition to physical readiness training with his unit.

Nunez says his goal has expanded to attend the Olympics.

“My goal has always been to go as far I can with amateur boxing,” Nunez said. “As I continued to excel, my goal expanded.”

Nunez said he will continue to push himself physically to excel in the ring with hopes of one day standing atop a three-tiered podium and watching the American flag rise in his honor.

Two Salutes

November 12, 2014, 2:37PM

Marine Corps Col. James Iulo and Sgt. Maj. Irvin Howard lay a wreath to honor Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, two-time Medal of Honor recipient, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 10. Daly was one of two Marines in history to receive the nation’s highest honor twice. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon ThomasMarine Corps Col. James Iulo and Sgt. Maj. Irvin Howard lay a wreath to honor Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, two-time Medal of Honor recipient, in Brooklyn, N.Y., Nov. 10. Daly was one of two Marines in history to receive the nation’s highest honor twice. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brandon Thomas