Female Purple Heart recipient walks among us

Marlene Rodriguez next to Actor Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson with her 2018 Mustang award

Actor Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson awarded Marlene Rodriguez, recreational therapy senior, army veteran and Purple Heart recipient, the Ford Go Further award along with a 2018 Mustang for her admirable work in the veteran community.

Photo courtesy of Marlene Rodriguez.

Alyssa Weinstein

Although it may not be widely known to many at Texas State, one of the few servicewomen to have ever received a Purple Heart walks on campus among us.

Marlene Rodriguez, recreational therapy senior, is a 39-year-old non-traditional student at Texas State and is one of approximately 500 women to receive the Purple Heart. Rodriguez joined the Army in 2003 and spent 38 months serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Rodriguez said as a child, one of her goals was to enlist and serve her country. She accomplished her goal but her military career was abruptly cut short when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the vehicle she was traveling in. Rodriguez suffered serious injuries in the attack, while her close friend, Cpl. Kevin McRay Jones was killed.

“I sustained a severe traumatic brain injury,” Rodriguez said. “I was placed in a medically induced coma and when they brought me out, I developed a seizure disorder.”

Until her permanent retirement in 2013, Rodriguez attempted to maintain her military career. However, due to the severity of her injury, she had no other choice but to leave the Army.

“I was on medical recovery leave and I was placed on a temporary retirement to see if I would recover and be fit for duty,” Rodriguez said. “However, I was not deemed fit so I was placed on permanent retirement and was released from my enlistment.”

Prior to her retirement, Rodriguez earned her Purple Heart in 2007 due to this life-changing event.

“It’s an honor to me,” Rodriguez said. “When I first received it, I was one of 85, but the war has been so crazy, I am now one in over 500. However, it’s something I am not happy for receiving, I got it, but I also lost someone in the process.”

Rodriguez now lives in San Antonio and commutes to Texas State. She is working toward her graduation in December 2018. Rodriguez said in the future she plans to create her own non-profit to support and assist veterans suffering from PTSD.

Along with her pursuit to help fellow veterans, she is also striving to be the first female Purple Heart recipient to climb the seven summits, starting with Mount Kilimanjaro in April.

“To prepare for this climb, I train daily, hike four to six miles with about 35-pound pack on my back, or I go on the treadmill with max incline for a few hours,” Rodriguez said.

Jessica Burke, recreation administration internship coordinator, has known Rodriguez since she enrolled in the program in 2016. Burke said she is proud of Marlene’s efforts and accomplishments.

“She has overcome incredible obstacles to be here where she is today and I can’t say I was surprised when she told me she was climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro,” Burke said.

In addition to her studies and training, Rodriguez also works with the Military Warriors Support Foundation, an organization that helps wounded veterans by, among other things, granting them mortgage-free homes. She has also been involved with other nonprofits to bring awareness about veteran suicide. More than 20 veterans take their lives every day, according to Mission 22,.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson recognized her admirable work in the veteran community and granted her a special honor along with a 2018 Ford Mustang. 

“Mr. Johnson and Ford Motor Company saw how much I have done for the veteran community and they awarded me with the Ford Go Further award because they believe I have shown exemplary service for my brothers and sisters in arms,” Rodriguez said.

Chris Martinez, a fellow veteran, met Rodriguez two years ago through Fairways for Warriors, a mental and physical rehabilitation for veterans through golf. Martinez said he admires Rodriguez’s determination to help others and to see the bigger picture in life.

“With everything given to her, she never feels deserving of any of it and she will always mention the driver that died in the IED attack,” Martinez said. “I believe not a day goes by that she doesn’t think of him and she will continue to ‘carry the load’ as we call it to push herself to the fullest because he can’t.”

To help Marlene spread awareness about veteran suicide, learn more at http://www.mission22.com/#ourcausehttps://stopsoldiersuicide.org and https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/.Rodriguez has also set up a Go Fund Me page to assist her in her goal to climb the seven summits.

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