When she’s not teaching fifth grade at Blackshear Elementary School, Ronda Rodriguez is a member of Echo Company 949th Brigade Support Battalion in Denton which helped those impacted by Hurricane Harvey with food and supply distribution in fall 2017.
Spending most of their time in Orange, Staff Sgt. Rodriguez said the group stayed about three weeks. They set up the items so people could drive through, say what they needed and get it loaded into their cars.
They also converted an airport into a supply depot where helicopters would offload everything and the supplies would be loaded on to trucks to be delivered wherever they needed to go.
She added that she and fellow soldiers would also load up trucks and distribute them in neighborhoods. Rodriguez said this was her first hurricane mission.
By the time a group of 30 from the 949th arrived, most of the roads were clear, but Rodriguez said they did drive through some water that was about seven feet deep.
She said people were pulling every possession they had out of their homes.
“… You name it, it was out on the sidewalk. You would just drive down the street you could smell the mold the mildew it was pretty bad. … It was pretty sad for me. I’ve never seen nothing like that,” Rodriguez said.
A native of Glen Rose, Rodriguez joined the Army because she didn’t want to go to college.
“I hated school,” Rodriguez said. “Me and my friends, we all went and took the ASVAB test (the entrance exam for the military). I was the only one that passed.”
Rodriguez met her husband, Ruben, who is retired as a first sergeant after 34 years, while serving. Rodriguez, who has been in the Army for 19 years, said she plans to stay in and be promoted to a sergeant first class.
Teaching was the one profession Rodriguez said she would never go into.
“Back in the day, I couldn’t stand kids. … When I moved to over here to Odessa, I finished my bachelor’s degree. I took an aide position at the school over here at Blackshear just to do something and get out of the house,” Rodriguez said.
She began to realize that she could teach, so she got her teacher certification through the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and began teaching the next school year. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration and health services from DeVry University.
She was stationed at Fort Hood while on active duty. When she went into the Texas Army National Guard, that’s when Rodriguez said she started going places.
In Fort Irwin, Calif., Rodriguez worked as a mechanic. After the invasion of Iraq that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, all the rotations would go through Fort Irwin to train up to go to Iraq.
Rodriguez said she wasn’t really mechanically inclined before, but she took to it quickly.
“All the equipment they’d draw from there, we’d be over there repairing it for them so they would train and deploy,” Rodriguez said.
She also took part in Operation Jump Start from 2006 to 2008 where the National Guard was sent to back up Border Patrol officers. Ronda and Ruben were based in Laredo for that.
After that, Ronda and Ruben were deployed to Iraq from 2008 to 2009, where she was a convoy commander.
“By the time we went at the same time (to Iraq), I’d already been there twice. They just pulled us straight from the border straight to Iraq,” Ruben said.
The Rodriguezes have been married since 2011.
In her role as a convoy commander, Ronda said she was responsible for running the gun trucks with convoys across Iraq and providing security for them to get from Point A to Point B.
When they got to Orange, Rodriguez said she didn’t know what to expect. She said it took them days to get from Denton to where they needed to be because there were a lot of stops.
Rodriguez’ company has 115 to 120 members and they were spread throughout Texas. About 30 of her group were in Orange and they put in at least 12-hour days.
“I’ve never done a mission like that. I guess it’s something I can say I’ve done now. I feel good helping them,” she said.
At school, Rodriguez’ military training has earned her the title of one of the meanest teachers at Blackshear.
“But I’m very disciplined and the kids like that,” she said.
Blackshear Principal Marissa King said Rodriguez has a love of serving and gives 150 percent to whatever she does. She added that she is thankful that their paths have crossed and Rodriguez has taught her what hard work looks like.
“I will never forget when she got the call that she had to go. I was doing walkthroughs in the building, she hunted me down. She told me she had to go now to help. She then proceeded to tell me but … I have lesson plans for my class for weeks, I have put in for a substitute and I will be in close contact with you about what I have to do,” King said in an email.
“She did just that. She sent pictures that we shared with kids about what was happening in our own state and we were able to teach kids how helping others in need is huge for everyone involved. At the beginning of the year, she gave me her schedule as far as drills goes that she has to participate in. When she has to go to drill her day entails of teaching her class all day, getting in the car to drive to base, maintaining her duties at drill and she still makes sure that she is a great mother, wife and teacher while doing that,” King added.