It isn’t uncommon for those who have served in the military to deploy multiple times in support of various operations.
Erick Rodriguez, a veteran, was no stranger to deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. He deployed to Afghanistan multiple times throughout 2008 to 2014.
“I deployed with multiple organizations with multiple special forces groups,” Rodriguez said. “I was involved in kinetic (combat) operations for all of my Afghanistan deployments except for the deployment in 2014,” Rodriguez said.
Other units he deployed with included the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas, and III Armored Corps out of Fort Hood.
Rodriguez was 24 years old when he deployed to Afghanistan the first time, 26 for the second deployment to Afghanistan, 29 for his third tour in support of OEF, 30 for his fourth deployment to Afghanistan and 32 years during his last tour to Afghanistan.
“My experiences while deployed to Afghanistan varied greatly,” Rodriguez said. “For the most part, I was involved in ground combat operations.”
Part of those ground operations included interacting with the Afghanistan populace.
“I have participated in many missions, ranging from presence patrols and intelligence gathering to raids and other high value target operations,” Rodriguez said. “I have spent a lot of time among the people of Afghanistan, often living in small outposts or villages or just outside of them.
“I slept where they slept and ate where they ate — I fought in between,” Rodriguez said. “But during one of my deployments to Afghanistan, I served as a public affairs operations sergeant where I served as the embedded media coordinator.”
Rodriguez’s last deployment to Afghanistan was with the III Armored Corps out of Fort Hood in 2014.
Like many veterans, Rodriguez was exposed to burn pits throughout his active-duty career.
“I have served near burn pits in both Afghanistan and Iraq,” Rodriguez said. “I would attribute some of my ailments to burn pits, although there isn’t an official diagnosis. I definitely can’t run like I used to.”
Some of those ailments are respiratory, including shortness of breath and a cough which comes and goes, and his cardiovascular endurance “went south fast,” he said.
Rodriguez, who joined the Army in 2003 at the ripe age of 19, left active-duty status in May 2018 after serving honorably for 15 years.
Currently, he serves in the U.S. Army Reserves with the 205th Press Camp Headquarters, located at Joint Base San Antonio, and lives in Killeen, where he practices and teaches Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
And although he may not be currently deployed, he said he recognizes the importance of those who serve in Afghanistan.
“I still feel Afghanistan is in a place that needs a lot of work to be fully independent of hostile entities trying to take over,” Rodriguez said. “Throughout history, Afghanistan has been an important place, especially among the trade routes. Personally, I think the U.S. should be there as long as we are productive in the assistance of the Afghan people. Our presence helps them truly attain independence from the forces that hope to control the country nefariously.”