Luis Rodriguez, Wounded Warrior
by Lance Colkmire
L

uis Rodrigues says he was an “Army recruiter’s dream” when he readily signed up in 1990 to pursue a military career.

Reared in a Catholic family in Puerto Rico, Luis married Lilliam, whom he calls “a woman of great faith,” before they left the island. However, because she was an Evangelical, their marriage caused a “brouhaha” in the Rodriguez family. He said his religious life to that point was one filled with “candles and images—a life of religious rhythms, but not of relationship.”

In 2003, when deployed to Mosul in northern Iraq, his life forever changed. On November 24, Sergeant First Class Rodriguez and his medical convoy were scheduled to bring supplies to a local hospital. He said, “I woke up with butterflies that day, even though I had battle experience and knew this was a peaceful mission.”

Meanwhile, unknown to Luis, something unusual had happened 6,800 miles away at the Clarksville, Tennessee, Church of God just hours before. While church members were pray- ing for their loved ones, a woman came to Lilliam and said,

“Your husband will be coming home alive, and God will do things you cannot imagine.”

Lilliam thought, Of course he’s coming home; he’s supposed to be back in two months.

On their way to the hospital, Rodriguez’s convoy was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device). He said, “I was very scared—terrified. My right leg was gone. There was nothing I could do for myself. I closed my eyes and prayed, thinking, This is it.” Luis admits, “I was not sure of where I was going if I died.”

Another medic pulled Luis from his vehicle and placed a tourniquet around his right leg. Even though the convoy was under fire, they escaped and got their leader to a field hospital in Mosul. He said, “This was where I always brought the wounded for help. It shook up the staff to see I was the one injured.”

Luis underwent 17 surgeries—two in Iraq, two in Germany, and 13 at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. There, on Christmas Eve, his two little girls saw their dad for the first time since his injury. Melanie, age 5, kissed her dad’s stump as a sign of affection.

    Remaining in Active Duty

As Luis lay in the hospital recovering, he was angry with God for letting him leave his comrades; he worried about them. “They were my family,” he said. After his injury, those soldiers had sent Lilliam a note saying they had never left Luis alone during his near-death experience, and that they had given blood for him. Luis also had to begin dealing with the psychological effects of losing a leg. He said, “I did not want pity.”

Instead, Luis did something that never happened—he continued as an active-duty soldier even though he only had one leg. He was assigned to train medics to help wounded soldiers in a quickly changing war zone like Iraq, where it is difficult to identify the enemy. He developed methods for working through tactical problems to deal with medical emergencies.

    Experiencing a Makeover

While home one day in 2005, Luis received a phone call from someone who
said his family was a candidate for the TV show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Having never heard of this program, Luis said he was not interested. When they called back, he hung up on them! The third time, they talked with Lilliam, who sent them a video of their house and family.

When Extreme Makeover called again, they asked Luis what kind of changes he would like to see in their house. He said he would like wood flooring instead of carpeting, which would make it easier for him to get around; also, a larger bathroom would help. He added that Lilliam would like to have new kitchen cabinets, but that was all they needed.

When the Rodriguezes were chosen, everyone else in the neighborhood knew it before they did. They were sent away, and on the day they returned and heard the cry, “Move that bus!” they saw their 1,400-square-foot home had been replaced by a 2,800-square-foot house with lots of open space. Luis said, “I was happy to represent military families on the show to help people understand what we go through.” In response, Luis received emails from across the nation.

    Challenging Others

Rodriguez retired from the military as a master sergeant in September 2007, but he has not slowed down. He is founder and president of RMI, which provides a variety of services to the Department of Defense, including combat training with the use of simulation, information-technology services and support, and general professional services. RMI employs service-disabled and other combat veterans. “They still want to serve,” Luis said.

When Luis speaks with wounded soldiers and veterans, he gives them the same advice he lives by: “Don’t feel sorry for yourself; you must not let your injury shape your life.”

In October 2009, when Extreme Makeover: Home Edition built a new house in Woodlawn, Tennessee, for the family of Scott Santiago—a Clarksville police officer who was killed in the line of duty— Luis provided behind-the-scenes help.

When the Roxboro, North Carolina, home of Bobby Isaacs—who lost both of his legs in an Iraq explosion—was remodeled, Luis Rodriguez climbed a 16-foot-ladder and operated a Bobcat dozer to help.

On October 30 and 31, 2010, Luis—with the help of PRI Tactics and Training and a few sponsors-conducted the first Wounded Warrior Combat Shoot handgun training in west Tennessee, specifically tailored for combat wounded soldiers with physical disabilities.

    Growing Spiritually

Paul Nolan, pastor of the Clarksville Church of God, called Luis Rodriguez a church member who “helps others who need help. He reaches people on a level others cannot reach.” For instance, the pastor credited Luis with recently giving direction to a nonmilitary amputee.

“Luis receives my sermons from a different viewpoint than others,” Nolan added. Luis said, “We see things from a different perspective. He accepts my advice, letting me help at church behind the scenes.”

Because God was working behind the scenes in Mosul, Iraq, more than seven years ago, Luis’ life was spared, and many other wounded warriors have been encouraged and pointed in the right direction.