Posted on October 20, 2016
Sergeant Eric Rodriguez is modest about his athletic accomplishments.
“I’ve got a couple of gold medals in field and wheelchair basketball,” he says as he prepares to compete in the 2016 Warrior Games. “Same with sitting volleyball.”
In fact, Eric’s athletic achievements are far more than he lets on. For example, one of those gold medals – for wheelchair basketball in the 2014 Warrior Games – saw Eric score 14 of 43 points in the Marines’ 43-30 victory that broke a three-year gold medal streak for Army. Not too shabby at all.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Eric joined the Corps in 2000 at the age of 17. “I wanted a challenge,” he says. “My father had to sign the paperwork in order for me to join. I was shipped to boot camp on October 10, 2000.”
After graduating from Marine Combat Training School of Infantry and Military Occupation Service training, Eric deployed to Okinawa, Japan, with the 3rd Force Service Support Group.
“After two months in the fleet, I requested to go with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), where I deployed three times on a West Pac as a Radio Operator for Boat Company.” Additional deployments followed, including a seven-month stretch in Ramadi, Iraq, and a seven-month deployment to Al Asad, Iraq, as part of Scout Sniper Platoon.
“Upon returning from Al Asad, I requested to be deployed again with Scout Sniper Platoon to Helmand, Afghanistan,” Eric says. “While in the last week of operations, I was assigned to go on a mission to support Bravo Company in a push through Shigal, where no troops had gone before.”
“On January 27, 2011, my team and I were sent to watch the resupply route,” he continues. “While on my way to a platform, an improvised explosive device went off, blowing me a couple feet up in the air. The explosion instantly blew my right foot and part of my calf off. I also broke my right arm and severely damaged my left leg.”
On March 31, 2011, Eric was MEDEVAC’d to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, for surgeries, then transferred to Naval Medical Center San Diego for physical therapy. It was during his stay in Bethesda that Eric first learned about the Semper Fi Fund.
“Somehow, the Semper Fi Fund found out that I was only getting paid $62, because somehow my pay was messed up,” Eric recalls. “They came to my room and asked me if it was okay to help me financially. I said no, but they kept coming in and asking if I needed anything. I really don’t like asking for anything, but they would come in every day and check up on me.”
“Once I transferred to Balboa in San Diego, June was my Semper Fi Fund case manager,” Eric continues. “She was sweet. She checked up on me, making sure I was good to go, then she helped get my family down to San Diego. Once I got released from inpatient, she helped me and my family stay in a hotel until the paperwork for my housing was squared away.”
After recovering from his surgeries, Eric began playing a variety of sports, including handcycling, wheelchair basketball (he plays for the San Diego Wolfpack), surfing, shooting and monoskiing. When he started playing wheelchair basketball, the Fund got him a basketball chair and helped him attend a multiple-sport training camp in Colorado.
“I made my mind up when I came back from the blast to stay positive no matter what – for my daughter and for those who didn’t make it back. I’m a Marine, and we are the best of the best. I love representing Team Semper Fi as much as representing this great nation and the Marine Corps. The Semper Fi Fund means the world to me, it’s a symbol of hope.”
“No matter what, always have fun and live life, don’t let life live you,” adds Eric, who spends his days in school, at the shooting range and honing his wheelchair basketball skills. “Everyone’s great support, and those who don’t have the chance to live, pushes me to better myself for me, my kids and the next generation.”