A family in Albertville has much to be proud of when it comes to their son and son-in-law, who recently received one of the U.S. military’s highest honors.
Master Sgt. Joe Rodriguez, son of Jesse and Terri Rodriguez and son-in-law to Lamar Pritchett, was awarded the Bronze Star for his achievements during his deployment to Iraq. While deployed, he was assigned to the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron at Al Asad Airbase, Iraq from Oct. 9, 2019-June 23, 2020.
“We did an awesome job out there. We had a great group of people,” Rodriguez said. “We were supposed to come back in April, but COVID hit and our replacements couldn’t make it out to us, so it ended up being late June.”
COVID-19 wasn’t the only major challenge Rodriguez faced on his deployment. Three months before Rodriguez landed in Iraq, the U.S. executed an airstrike against Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani to prevent planned attacks on American diplomats.
“Of course, Iran didn’t like that very much and vowed that they were going to retaliate,” Rodriguez said.
At the time, Al Asad Airbase hadn’t experienced an attack in seven years. Then, on the night of Jan. 8, 2020, Iran retaliated.
“It was a little bit before 10 p.m., I had just cleared the T-walls, and just like in the movies, I hear a whistle,” Rodriguez said. “After that, it became commonplace. Throughout my time there, we got attacked seven times.”
During the following months, Rodriguez and his squadron continued to provide ground-to-air support while under heavy enemy attack, making him a prime candidate for the Bronze Star medal.
“His greatest attribute was the ability to strategically operate and motivate his Airmen through the challenges,” said 1st First Lieutenant Drake Kuntzleman, 726th Signal Communication Operation officer in charge. “His ability to lead his Airmen through enemy attacks while on an extended employment was an awesome reflection that served the country.”
Rodriguez admits that his mind was simply on his task, and not the possibility of receiving an award.
“In my mind, the Bronze Star medal has always been this grander thing. You would usually see the older Vietnam veterans with them,” Rodriguez said. “I wasn’t thinking about it when I went out there. When it became a reality, it was still a shock.”
The support provided by Rodriguez and the 727th EACS resulted in more than 100 confirmed enemy kills via airstrike. Despite the unprecedented challenges, Rodriguez remains thankful for the experience.
“We had a lot of good learning opportunities for our Airmen, myself and even our Lieutenant,” Rodriguez said. “We did a lot of growing out there, and I’m very happy that we were able to participate in Operation Inherent Resolve. The mission was very rewarding.”