|From The Statesman statesman.com
Smithville soldier remembered as loving father, caring friend
Mario Rodriguez Jr. died in Afghanistan
By Naureen Khan
Updated: 9:28 p.m. Monday, June 14, 2010
Published: 8:48 p.m. Monday, June 14, 2010
Sgt. Mario Rodriguez Jr., who was killed in combat in Afghanistan on Friday, was at least the third service member from Smithville to be killed in Afghanistan in the past year.
The 24-year-old husband and father joined a Marine and another soldier, both of whom died in 2009 . Although details are still unclear, Rodriguez's family said military officials told them that he was on a mission when he was hit by gunfire.
"He was a wonderful man, a wonderful husband and father," his wife, Leslie, said Monday, shortly after returning home from Delaware, where the family received his body Sunday night.
"Our little girl — he loved her so much. He was going to teach her how to play soccer. He always told her that he loved her big head."
Rodriguez is survived by his wife, 7-year-old daughter Raven George , two brothers, four sisters and his mother and father.
He grew up in Smithville and was a linebacker for Smithville High School's football team. When he was home on leave, he loved going to football games on Friday nights.
Britni Fleming, 21, went to high school with Rodriguez and said his "goofy smile" lit up the hallway.
"He's always been the leader-type, even before he joined the Army," she said. "He was always there for people. He was extremely close to his friends. He was a shoulder to cry on, there when you needed him."
Rodriguez enlisted with the Texas National Guard in 2003 and did his first tour of duty in Kosovo.
In 2007, he was deployed to Iraq . He was promoted to the rank of sergeant shortly before he was sent to Afghanistan in December as part of the 82nd Airborne , a sister said. The division is based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
"He was dedicated to what he decided to do," said Rosalva Rodriguez, 21 , Mario Rodriguez's younger sister. "He knew what his job was, and it didn't scare him. He was always worried about others being safe."
His two Rodriguez brothers have also served in the military — one will be deployed to Afghanistan next month.
Scott Grzyb, 24 , who also attended high school with Rodriguez, said his friend's death is "just like a punch to the gut."
"You don't really believe it at first," he said. "The war just got real, in other words."
Rodriguez met his wife online three years ago. He drove two hours from Fort Hood, where he was stationed, to Mexia for their first date.
"He would go without stuff just to make sure that me and Raven had the things that we wanted," Leslie Rodriguez said. "He made sure we had a roof over our heads and that we were always taken care of."
Funeral arrangements have not been made yet.
Smithville, about 40 miles east of Austin, has less than 5,000 residents, according to the city. But the small community is mobilizing in tragedy.
The Smithville High School class of 2004 is holding a Fallen Heroes Benefit on July 17 at the American Legion there in his honor. Proceeds will go toward a memorial for Rodriguez and other local casualties of the war, and toward a scholarship fund for underprivileged students.
|Joined Guard after graduating from high school
The Associated Press
Mario Rodriguez was a leader who helped keep high school teammates in line and fought to keep his units secure when he was serving overseas, friends said.
He played linebacker on the football team at Smithville High School and enjoyed going to Friday night games when he was home on leave.
“He was always there for people,” classmate Britni Fleming said. “He was extremely close to his friends. He was a shoulder to cry on, there when you needed him.”
Rodriguez, 24, of Smithville, Texas, died June 11 in Powrak, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit. He was assigned to Fort Bragg, N.C.
Rodriguez joined the National Guard in 2003 and had served in Kosovo and Iraq.
“He knew what his job was, and it didn’t scare him,” said Rosalva Rodriguez, one of his four sisters. “He was always worried about others being safe.”
His wife, Leslie, said their 7-year-old daughter, Raven, was the apple of his eye.
“He was going to teach her how to play soccer,” she said. “He always told her that he loved her big head.”
Rodriguez also is survived by his parents and two brothers.