LOCAL

Army Sgt. Jose Rodriguez 'always put friends ... before himself'

DefenseArmed ForcesUnrest, Conflicts and WarAfghanistanNATO

After Army Sgt. Jose Rodriguez finished his first tour in Afghanistan, the model soldier decided to deploy again to better provide for his wife and son.

A family man with a penchant for humor, the 22-year-old put on hold his plans to become a firefighter so his family could be better off once his military service was over, relatives said.

Rodriguez died June 19 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds from enemy small-arms fire.

He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.

This was his second deployment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to the military. His first deployment was from July 2009 to June 2010.

"He was one of those guys who would do anything for anybody," said Sgt. Eric Rutland, who served in the Army with Rodriguez and became a good friend.

In April, a few days before the men went on their most recent deployment, Rodriguez helped Rutland clean out his car for military storage. It was one of the last things the two did together before going overseas, and Rodriguez didn't think twice about stopping to help, Rutland said.

The evening before Rodriguez was killed, Rutland asked to borrow a patch for his uniform. Always accommodating, Rodriguez obliged. Rutland still has the patch.

"He always put friends — especially soldiers — before himself," Rutland said.

On a daily basis, Rodriguez would take time to make sure each soldier was ready to go for the next day. Before he'd sleep or eat, he'd make sure others were cared for.

"His soldiers' welfare was his priority," Rutland said.

Rodriguez grew up in Newman and Gustine in Northern California and graduated from Gustine High in 2008. His family told a local newspaper that he had an "infectious smile" and a sharp sense of humor.

"When you met him he would be the most serious person, but once he got to know you he loved to make people laugh," said his brother, Ruben Rodriguez.

Jose Rodriguez carried that attitude overseas and never complained, Rutland said. He had no problem carrying heavy equipment, for example.

"He never felt above doing anything or helping anybody out or anything like that," he said.

Rodriguez is survived by his wife, Lupita; his son, Octavian; and his parents, Margarita and Augustine.

His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with campaign star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, NATO Medal, Certificate of Achievement and Combat Infantry Badge, according to the military.

He is buried at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella, Calif.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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