Second-generation Cuban American on his father’s side and second-generation Mexican American on his mother’s side, Captain Rodriguez accompanied his father, who had been a naval reserve, into the military. He earned his BS in Personnel Management from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and then graduated from Marine Corps Elementary School in Quantico at the same time as Captain Ball, in 2013. It was also his first time in Afghanistan. And like Captain Ball, he had left a pregnant wife at home.
In Kabul, Captain Rodriguez found himself on a mission to rescue 32 Afghan female athletes. Jeff Phaneuf, a former Marine in Princeton, NJ who worked for a U.S. organization trying to evacuate the athletes, had been given the captain’s cell phone number.
The athletes were in separate groups on their way to the airport or already at the Abbey Gate. Captain Rodriguez pushed into the crowd to find them.
It was like a game phone with higher stakes. “It was as simple as ‘What are they wearing?’ he remembered his texts with Mr. Phaneuf. “Then he would relate to me: ‘They are 200 meters from the canal. They have this on, and then:’ They are in the canal, they have it on. ‘” And so, in four hours, Captain Rodriguez found the athletes .
Nearby, other Marines did the same.
Back in Virginia, Lieutenant Colonel Justin Bellman had been trying to get his former interpreter, Walid, through Abbey Gate for 60 hours. During a melee, Walid’s son had fallen and lost a shoe. Eventually, an unknown number appeared on Colonel Bellman’s cell phone while he was standing at a bus stop. The ringer identified himself as a Marine.
“Did you give a sign with your phone number on to an Afghan at Abbey Gate?” asked the voice. “Can you vouch for him?”
His voice shook, Colonel Bellman said yes.
“I have eyes on him,” said the Marine. “We’re pulling him in.”