Warrior Foundation Freedom Station presents "Warriors: Then & Now," a special story of impact. Learn how we helped make it possible for an American hero to live his best life.
During his nearly 13 years serving in the United States Marine Corps, Sergeant Eric Rodriguez proved without a doubt that Marines are trained to improvise, adapt and overcome any obstacle in any situation. A Los Angeles native, Eric enlisted at age 17 and would complete eight deployments during his time in the military. As a field radio operator in a sniper platoon, he deployed to some of the harshest wartime environments during Operation Enduring Freedom.
In 2011, Eric and his team were conducting a patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, a known Taliban stronghold. He stepped on an improvised explosive device inside a compound, which blew off his right foot, detached his left foot, broke his right arm, and caused shrapnel wounds to his face. Eric was eventually transported to Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) for medical care. Although doctors were unable to save his right foot, they reconstructed his left foot and treated his other injuries.
During his recovery at NMCSD from 2011-2012, Warrior Foundation Freedom Station was fortunate enough to happen upon this incredible young man. The foundation’s volunteers were familiar friendly faces at the hospital, spending hours meeting and befriending recovering service members. Weekly luncheons and the annual “Deck the Halls” event, which brings hundreds of volunteers together to decorate the hospital for Christmas, were mainstays.
While at the hospital, Eric and his fellow Marine Josue Barron had the opportunity to attend a collegiate wheelchair basketball camp. They loved the experience and realized what an incredible therapeutic outlet it was for the mind, body and soul. With this shared vision and passion among a group of warriors, the San Diego Wolfpack wheelchair basketball team was born. Today, the Wolfpack is a championship-winning adaptive sports team supported by Warrior Foundation Freedom Station.
Eric went on to play for the Wolfpack for nearly five years. He says, “It gave me back the sense of brotherhood that I needed. We traveled all over America competing in different tournaments. It was a huge part of my recovery and transition to be around like-minded veterans and have that military mentality where we could challenge each other and help each other when it mattered the most.”
In 2017, Eric was recruited to play wheelchair basketball for the University of Missouri, where he is currently pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering and minoring in math and architecture. “I’m juggling classes with basketball so I wake up around 3 a.m. and get to school by 4:30 a.m. We have practice from 5:30 – 7:30 a.m., and I usually stay afterwards to work out and run through more techniques. Then I go to class, so sometimes I don’t get home until 5 or 6 p.m. I feel like I have to push myself for everyone who supports me and roots for me, like Warrior Foundation Freedom Station. If I push my hardest, I will set a good example.”
After he graduates in 2022, Eric hopes to pursue a career in mechanical engineering and start his own business building custom firearms, given his passion for participating in Precision Rifle Series competitions. When he’s not at school, Eric spends time with his wife and two children, ages 8 and 11 years old. His wife earned a degree through Ashford University and will pursue a preschool teaching career.
Reflecting on his life now, and his experience with Warrior Foundation Freedom Station, Eric has this to say. “When I got out of the hospital and medically retired from the Marine Corps, I didn’t know what to do next. I was scared to go to school. Warrior Foundation Freedom Station's founder and CEO Sandy Lehmkuhler pushed me to sign up for college and emphasized how important education would be in the next chapter in civilian life. She set up an appointment for me with Southwestern College. I signed up, and the foundation even assisted with tuition and a laptop for school. I stuck with it until I was able to transfer to the University of Missouri.”
“I can’t thank the foundation enough for doing that for me, and for caring enough to put me on the path that has allowed me be where I’m at now. Whenever I feel tired or discouraged, I think about that and it forces me to not waste their time, my time and my family’s time.”