Dec. 19, 2013

by Brian Gunning

As the 19th commander of the United States Forces Command, the Army's largest organization, Gen. David Rodriguez was responsible for training, readying and equipping 265,000 active component soldiers and 560,000 soldiers in the Army National Guard and United States Army Reserve. The 1976 West Point graduate and football letterwinner worked every day to instill the values of, "resolute strength and unyielding determination," that bond the 820,000 people under his command. However, his greatest success during his 36-year military career may be passing along those same values to one soldier -- his son, Andrew Rodriguez.

A member of the West Point Class of 2012, Andrew distinguished himself as one of the most decorated football players in Army history. In December 2011, the academic All-American, who boasted a better than 4.0 grade point average, became the first West Point player to take home the National Football Foundation's William V. Campbell Trophy, presented annually to the nation's top football playing scholar-athlete. Just three months later, Andrew put his name among the nation's all-time great athletes, a list that includes former Army stars Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Y. Arnold Tucker, by claiming the Amateur Athletic Union's James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Army's leading tackler as a sophomore in 2009, Andrew missed the entire 2010 season with a career-threatening back injury. He returned in 2011 to start 11 games.

"I think his personal comeback from injury reflects his personal philosophy," Gen. Rodriguez, now serving as the Commander of Unites States Africa Command, explains. "He is tough and perseveres. He strives to be the best and to work very hard. His final year at West Point certainly reflects that work ethic and dedication."

That work ethic and dedication can be traced back to the guidance and instruction Andrew received during his time traveling the world as the youngest of four siblings in a military family, including one older sister who graduated from West Point in 2006. Living on Army posts for his entire childhood, a young Andrew was able to witness the values necessary in order to serve in the armed forces.

"He has grown up around the Army with assignments at Fort Bragg, the Pentagon and military bases around the world," Rodriguez says of his son. "He also knew about family separations. He was only three months old when I was deployed to Operation Desert Storm in 1990, and was 13 when I went back there in 2003. Growing up, he'd go to work with me sometimes as well as visiting injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He knew about the values, the personal dedication and sacrifice it takes to pursue a career in our armed forces."

The elder Rodriguez was also raised with an appreciation for the military lifestyle. A native of West Chester, Penn., he, like most other families in the tight-knit, working-class community, had relatives who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

"We all knew someone who served in the armed forces," Rodriguez recalls. "Schools like nearby West Chester University offer Army ROTC. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 106 has been operating there since 1899 and hosts a picnic on Memorial Day to honor the fallen. My father was in the Army and part of the occupation army of Japan."

After earning two varsity letters in football and receiving all-conference honors in baseball at Henderson High School, Rodriguez was recruited to play football for head coach Tom Cahill at West Point. Along with his exposure to military life, students at Henderson were instilled with similar values as cadets at West Point. Henderson's ideals of "lessons of life and truth" and "knowledge to serve, to each a loyal heart," which are included in the school's alma mater, were great introductions for the Academy's ideals of, "Duty, Honor, Country." Rodriguez was a four-year member of the Army football team, earning his first varsity letter as a senior in 1975. He embarked on his military career after graduating in the spring of 1976 and was commissioned in the Infantry branch of the U.S. Army.

Rodriguez continued his education, earning a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the United States Naval War College and a Master of Military Art and Science from the United States Army Command and General Staff College.

During his highly-decorated career, Rodriguez has earned the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Bronze Star Medal (with Oak Leaf Cluster), Defense Meritorious Medal, Meritorious Service Medal (with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters), Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal (with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters), Joint Service Achievement Medal, numerous foreign awards, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Ranger Tab.

In his more than 35 years of military service, Rodriguez has experienced nearly every aspect of being an Infantry leader and commander. His combat experience began during the Gulf War as a G-3 Planner for the XVIII Airborne Corps during Operation Just Cause (1989-90). He also served as an Operations Officer for the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm (1990-91). Rodriguez returned to the Middle East as an Assistant Division Commander of the 4th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in 2002.

After several other high-ranking leadership details, Gen. David Petraeus tabbed Rodriguez as Deputy Commander, United States Forces Afghanistan. In that role, the then-"three-star" general was responsible for developing the operational plan for what has become known as the "Afghan Surge," the deployment of 30,000 additional troops in 2009.

"He'll never tell you that this whole thing was his baby," his top aide at the time, Col. Kimberly Field, told Newsweek magazine. "But it was."

Described as "low-key" and "humble" by some of his subordinates, Rodriguez took a philosophical and inclusive approach to one of the most important plans in recent military history.

"I tell everybody, `If we used our two ears and one mouth in the same ratio we had them, we would be better off,'" he told Newsweek in that same June 26, 2011 article.

It is that sense of selfless duty that Rodriguez and his wife, Ginny, have passed down to their son. While standing in front of an audience that included a "Who's Who" of amateur athletics after accepting the Sullivan Award, the younger Rodriguez chose not to tout his own accomplishments, but instead honored those who helped shape his life and the men and women he will soon be leading.

"This award is a tribute to all the people who have helped me throughout my life," Rodriguez told the audience at the New York Athletic Club. "I had the opportunity to play for all the servicemen and servicewomen who watched us every week. That's who my teammates and I played for, and this award goes out to them."

Humility is not the only trait that Andrew, who graduated ranked third in West Point's Class of 2012, has inherited from his family. A recognized leader both within the United States Corps of Cadets and the football team, Rodriguez was chosen as a team captain by his teammates despite his uncertain playing status entering the 2011 season. A quiet leader, Rodriguez has modeled his leadership style from everything he was able to observe as a youngster.

"Andrew is a fantastic son!" the proud father says. "He told a sports reporter back in 2007 that many of the lessons he learned growing up around the Army he tries to carry over into his athletics. The Army is really based on leadership. He said in that interview, as I recall, that he got to see first-hand the type of leadership it takes to be successful. Lead by example, be the best, work the hardest, do everything and inspire others to follow you."

For an officer with such a decorated and well-known, father, the expectations would seem daunting at times, but the younger Rodriguez has been able to put that potentially heavy burden aside and build his own list of credentials.

"I really don't feel any pressure," Andrew says of his father's high-profile military career. "I'm sure there are some people who know who he is and know who I am and the relationship that will have their expectations change, but I can't control that. I really don't feel any pressure. I just try to go out and do my best."

While Andrew garnered most of the headlines for his athletic and academic prowess, the family patriarch can point to all four of his children and their ability to overcome obstacles as a sense of pride.

"I was proud and honored that my children all made great career choices, both military and civilian," Rodriguez says. "All four are terrific citizens, and Ginny and I couldn't be prouder of them, including two choosing to go to West Point. As one can imagine, it's always a personal challenge to move and change school systems and athletic teams as a military family and all our children proved adaptable and overcame the challenges very well."

Check back tomorrow for LARRAINE SAAVEDRA: Serving Up Strength.

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