Purple Heart: Army Staff Sgt. Marlene Rodriguez
It takes a bold heart to join our military. It takes a brave one to deploy to Iraq. But it takes an even more valiant one to be injured in the line of duty … and head back up to the front lines again and again.
That’s what Army Staff Sgt. Marlene Rodriguez did, as she joined the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Three times, she embarked on combat duty deployments to Iraq as a heavy wheeled vehicle operator. Two of those three times, her vehicle took direct hits from improvised explosive devices (IEDs). From these violent attacks, she received traumatic brain injuries, one of which left her with a severe seizure disorder that robbed her of her previously clear speech, giving her an impediment, and left her with up to 10 seizures a day. All of this on top of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), survivor’s guilt, and the deaths of friends, which left her with an unimaginably heavy burden to carry — all before the age of 30.
However, as much as she gave of herself, she was not done giving to our country. Mustering up an incredible, commendable strength of will, she overcame both physical and emotional trauma to continue to contribute to her community.
It first began with her return to college to pursue higher education at Northwest Vista College and Texas State University for recreational administration — all the better to help her create an organization on recreational therapy for veterans. While that mission builds momentum, she has been involved with Heroes Sports, Fairways for Warriors, Camp Capers, and the Wounded Warrior Project. In addition, she is also a vocal advocate for fellow veterans through organizations such as the Military Warriors Support Foundation, for which she has a particular affinity.
It was through the help of this group that, despite being once reduced to near homelessness, she was able to purchase a home. It was also through this worthy organization that she received family and financial mentoring, which has helped her eliminate her debt so that she can focus on the good works to which she contributes so much.
With this freedom, she’s free to scale even greater heights — literally, as she trains vigorously and sets her sights on conquering the Seven Summits. However, given what Rodriguez has overcome, this daunting feat is far less so for a fearless woman with her tenacity, determination, resiliency, and passion.
And so in every way, we salute her.
This piece is part of a series recognizing National Purple Heart Day (August 7). CircleAround is putting the spotlight on three women recipients of one of the nation’s highest military honors, “awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.”