Remembering the Life and Memory of...
PFC Kevin Rodriguez
Awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Expert Marksmanship Badge.
Hometown: Paterson, NJ.
Died: October 4, 2015.
Unit: Company A, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
PATERSON – For nine months, Pfc. Kevin Rodriguez’ family in Paterson worried about him as he served in Afghanistan with the United States Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
The young infantryman kept in touch through social media, but he couldn’t say much about what was happening in the war-torn country. Finally, his loved ones felt a sense of relief when the 22-year-old graduate of Paterson’s PANTHER Academy came back to the United States in June.
“We thought he would be safe here,” said his 20-year-old sister, Joan Rodriguez.
But on Wednesday, Rodriguez was fatally shot during a training exercise near Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee border. A military spokesman said there is no indication that the shooting was anything but accidental. “I can’t believe that he’s gone,” said Rodriguez’s girlfriend, Jane Gonzalo, 24, of Fair Lawn. “I’m destroyed. I can’t even cry. I just scream.”
Rodriguez died on the two-year anniversary of his enlistment, according to his sister. He joined the Army after his grandfather died, and his enlistment was an effort to make the spirt of his grandfather proud, said his sister. His sister and girlfriend said Rodriguez was deeply patriotic. “He loved being able to say that he was defending our country,” said Joan Rodriguez.
Gonzalo recalled a photo that Rodriguez had taken of the American flag being raised above his camp in Afghanistan. “He loved it,” she said.
Rodriguez had earned the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Expert Marksmanship Badge, according to an Army news release.
Rodriguez was born in Puerto Rico and his family moved to Paterson when he was five, his sister said. He attended Schools 10 and 2 and before PANTHER, she said. Most of that time, his parents - Daniel Rodriguez and Joan Pino-Caban - lived on Main Street, near the Passaic County Jail, she said. After his graduation from high school, the Rodriguez family moved back to Puerto Rico, where he learned to be an auto mechanic, his sister said. Kevin Rodriguez enlisted while his family was in Puerto Rico and they returned to Paterson while he was in the Army, his sister said. “He was the quietest person I ever knew,” said his sister. “He was very happy, but it was hard to get him to smile for a picture. He was so serious.” “They don’t make men like that anymore,” said Gonzalo. “He was such a gentleman. He had a lot of respect for everyone.”
Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres said he was saddened by Paterson’s loss. “It’s such a tragedy,” Torres said. “My heart goes out to the family and to his former classmates at PANTHER Academy.” Rodriguez was passionate about cars, said his sister. He liked working on their engines and he enjoyed races, she said. People were always asking him to fix their vehicles, said Gonzalo.
After he enlisted, the young soldier also began collecting tattoos, said his sister. On his back, he carried a tribute to Puerto Rico, she said. He also had gotten his the name of his newly-born niece – Grace - inked on his body, she said. “He was crazy about my daughter,” Joan Rodriguez said of her four-month-old. Rodriguez’s loved ones say the military has given them few details of what happened on Wednesday. His sister said the Army was waiting for his commander to return from Afghanistan to conduct an investigation. Gonzalo said she can’t understand how he could have been shot during a training exercise. “I want justice for my boyfriend,” she said. “I don’t know how this could have happened.”
Rodriguez was an infantryman in Company A, 1st Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, known as "Rakkasans.”
His sister and girlfriend said Rodriguez was popular among his fellow soldiers as well as his friends in Paterson. “He was loved by so many people,” said Joan Rodriguez.
The wake has been scheduled for Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at Martinez Funeral home at 747 Market Street. Funeral services will be Monday at 9 a.m. at the funeral home.