A Place to Belong: Part I

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Martin Rodriguez was looking for a challenge, something no one in his family had ever done before. But he never imagined serving in the Air Force would take him through some of the most challenging times of his life.

He grew up with few positive influences around him, and wanted his family to be proud of what he could accomplish.

“A lot of my cousins were struggling in life, some were in jail and others were high school drop outs,” said Tech. Sgt. Martin Rodriguez, 325th Logistics Readiness Squadron travel center NCO in charge. “I wanted to show my younger cousins and sisters that they could be whatever they wanted, that was very powerful to me.”

Rodriguez joined the Air Force in June 2001, and was in technical training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, on Sept. 11 while history unfolded in New York City.

“We were in the middle of class when it happened,” Rodriguez said. “Instructors started to come into the room asking who had family in New York, and everything just stopped. Things were going to change and I didn’t know how it was going to affect me, but I was committed to my goal. The challenge found me.”

Rodriguez finished technical training and arrived in California as an airman basic, where he began his journey as a traffic management office technician in the household goods office.

A short time later, he deployed to Qatar as an airman first class. His unit was only scheduled to be there for 90 days, but stop loss went into effect as the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and his team had mixed reactions to the news of staying in theater longer.

“We didn’t know when we would be going home and one particular NCO didn’t take it well. At one point I thought we might have to zip tie this guy to a chair, and at the same time, try to keep the other Airmen calm. It was a very different time.”

Rodriguez sought a change of pace and began the cross training process to become a linguist. He was reassigned to Monterey, California. At the final stage of the process, he was unable to continue with the program and returned to his career field at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

He didn’t let the obstacle discourage him, and Rodriguez quickly promoted to staff sergeant. He became the truck dock supervisor, but another challenge loomed on the horizon.

While on deployment again, Rodriguez found himself in a difficult situation.

“A personal issue between a senior NCO and a junior NCO made for an openly hostile work environment,” Rodriguez said. “To top it off, we were being bombed constantly, so fighting each other was the last thing we needed.”

Eventually the office dispute would ensnare Rodriguez.

“I was blind-sided by a general letter of reprimand because of this personal conflict between these two individuals,” Rodriguez said. “That cost me my deployment medal. I worked so hard for it and in the end the paper work was shredded, but the damage was done. It wasn’t fair for me, but sometimes you’re put in those positions where you have to be resilient. Salsa dance night at the Army compound helped me survive that tour.”

Shortly after returning from his second deployment, Rodriguez got another chance at cross training, this time as a KC-135 in-flight refueling boom operator.

He soon faced a challenge that would have a lasting impact, making it through survival training. The rigors of that course, both physically and psychologically, tested his resilience once again.

“Survival School was definitely an experience, I got hit a lot to say the least,” he said. “Graduation day was an overwhelming feeling of pride, I was fighting and struggling inside and out. Coming together with your peers was significant. If my aircraft went down I knew without a doubt I would do everything I could to help my passengers survive.”