Soldier who got ‘Extreme Makeover’ home to leave Army
By: By CHANTAL ESCOTO The Leaf-Chronicle
CLARKSVILLE (AP) — Luis and Lilliam Rodriguez have spent the last four years trying to figure out what a normal life is like. But one constant that has always been present in their life is their love of God and family.
When Luis lost his leg in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq on Nov. 23, 2003, the medic with the 502nd Infantry Regiment never thought he’d make it out alive, let alone be retiring as a master sergeant preparing for a career outside the Army.
“I am exploring options right now, possibly small business ownership,” Rodriguez said, who had turned down attending the sergeant major academy so he could stay home with his family. “We have a low cost of living and as long as my retirement can cover the bills we can live inexpensively.”
But the decision to retire after serving 17 years on active duty was not easy because he loved his job as a medic instructor and the Army.
“Honestly, for me, I’ve been prepared over the past year and a half. It’s not something I’ve done out of the blue,” Rodriguez said.
“I weighed everything and got input from the family. The stability of the family is what is important.” The couple has two daughters Michelle, 11, and Melanie, 9.
Another reason the Rodriguez’s plan to stay in Clarksville is because, frankly, the couple doesn’t want to leave their caring neighbors or give up their custom-made house.
In June 2005, ABC’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition” team descended upon their Clarksville home and — with the help of Clay Powers and hundreds of other volunteers — transformed the lot from a nice home to a 3,200-square foot Craftsman-style house complete with hardwood floors, a huge salt-water fish tank, and backyard palm trees that mist outside dwellers when it gets too hot.
“All I asked for was to maybe widen the doorways and get rid of the carpets and stairs,” Luis said, who almost turned down the home makeover opportunity because of all the fanfare that he knew would surround it. But when his friends convinced him to do it for his family he agreed. “Yeah, they really have been through a lot.”
Lilliam is also slated to graduate in May with her master’s in social work, with hopes of getting a job locally helping other families with wounded soldiers. She is currently completing a work study program at the Fort Campbell Fisher House doing exactly that.
“After my experience with Rod, I know that not everybody is prepared to deal with injured soldiers. I was preparing myself for a big homecoming with all the soldiers but we didn’t have that.
“He was coming home injured. It was critical for me to be there for him and for other family members,” she said, recalling staying by her husband’s bedside while he recovered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and helping other families deal with their own similar calamity.
“There were a lot of resources I didn’t know about. A new wife or mom doesn’t know the military system. They needed to understand the frustration of their husband (or son). It’s a big difference when they come back from war because not only was he (physically) injured but what’s going on with his mind?”
However, it was her reliance on the Lord that comforted her.
“My faith in Jesus Christ gave me the strength, knowledge and patience I needed and guided me through this ordeal,” she said, remembering her thoughts after hearing the news about her husband’s injury. “I don’t know what I would have done. In just one second everything changed with that phone call.”
Luis doesn’t feel resentful for what happened to him but rather feels blessed to be alive and able to live a relatively normal life. He also realizes other soldiers who sustained more severe injuries will have a harder time getting back to some kind of routine. Then there are the ones who have suffered post traumatic stress disorder.
“People out there don’t know there are a lot of soldiers who don’t have a scratch on them but are carrying a lot mentally and emotionally. You have a good friend you saw get blown up. It affects you the rest of your life,” he said, but was quick to add that not everybody plays fair.
“Then there are the guys who bend their pinky (finger) and they cry about it,” he said. “Those are the kind of people who don’t need to be in the Army because their attitude is not there. If you joined the Army for money then you joined for the wrong reasons.”
But Luis doesn’t claim to be hero just because he survived a horrific event. Where he does give credit is to God, his soldiers who saved his life during the ambush and his family’s steadfast commitment.
“Things happen for a reason. I tell everybody I lost my leg and I go through a lot of pain but this is who I am now. I lost my leg doing what I loved to do,” said Luis, who was delivering medical equipment and other comfort items to Iraqi children with leukemia when the attack happened.
“There was nothing I could do that day except pray,” he said. “God brought me home. That’s something I’ve had to learn is that I don’t control anything, God does. It becomes a humble experience to accept that.”
Published in The Messenger 12.31.07