At 28 years old, Staff Sergeant Daniel Rodriguez had a wife and three children, and four combat tours under his belt after 10 years of service in the Army. Rodriguez grew up in New York City, but friends and family said he wanted to be buried in the North Country, in tribute to his time with the 10th Mountain Division. His funeral was held yesterday in Carthage, in Jefferson County.
As Joanna Richards reports, Rodriguez will be remembered for his humor, the love he had for his family, and the commitment he had to his military career.
Rodriguez was one of two 10th Mountain Division soldiers killed July 18 in Ghazni City, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. He was a heavy vehicle driver, with the division's 10th Sustainment Brigade.
Rodriguez grew up in the Bronx and moved to Baltimore during his high school years, where he met his wife, Tiffanie. But friends and family said he wanted to be buried here, in the north country, in tribute to his time with the 10th Mountain Division, so they came from out of town to be here.
Hector Soto says his younger brother wanted a full career in the Army, both to serve his country and to create a better life for his children. "He loved it, and he told me one time, you know, he's going to die in the service. He never wanted to come out. And it came out true."
Soto called Rodriguez wise, "Any problems, anything that the family had, we'd always come to him for advice. And he didn't have no problem sitting down for three, four, five hours and giving us all advice. And we feel like we're breaking up – he could put you back together. He's like, a real angel."
Suehay Gonzalez Alicea remembered her cousin as fun and loving. He could be silly with family, but he took his role as a noncommissioned officer very seriously, "He was very, very strict and very firm about it, and he was passionate about what he did, and he always spoke very highly of the military and his position in it – and it was pretty much his life."
Staff Sergeant Joseph Shimkus deployed with Rodriguez and joined him on missions in Afghanistan. The two were partners on an effort to climb Whiteface Mountain, one of the Adirondacks' high peaks. “I couldn't have done it without him,” Shimkus said. But he got a little ribbing from Rodriguez, too.
"When I was in the office, what he did was call me 'Old Man.' And we lived next door to each other, so I'd go for evening walks with my wife, and every time I walked by his house, he'd always say, 'There goes the Old Man,' so it was kind of hard, seeing him go, 'cause now, I won't see that every time I go out with my wife."
The service for Rodriguez was held at Lundy Funeral Home in Carthage. Major General Mark Milley, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, spoke at the ceremony.
Soto says he wants his brother's death to remind people of the reasons behind service members' sacrifice, "They die in the service for one cause – to protect everybody. They're dying for us. And we have to keep their memories alive, for them and all their families."
After the funeral, community members lined the sidewalks and waved flags as two motorcyle clubs – the Patriot Riders Guard, from Syracuse, and the Fort Drum chapter of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association – turned out to lead the funeral procession, followed by trucks from local fire departments. He was buried in Brookside Cemetery, in Watertown.