MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- American football great, Vince Lombardi, once said, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” For Cpl. Gibran H. Rodriguez, 22, assigned to II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, II MEF, the desire to win and be the best soccer player he could possibly be was his life’s pursuit and passion. So much, the Aurora, Ill., resident, made his way into a foreign soccer league shortly after leaving high school.
“I pursued professional soccer in Mexico,” said the trained radio operator, whose parents are originally from there. “I was with a professional (soccer) club called Atlas Futbol Club based in Guadalajara, Mexico.”
Before his soccer goal dreams could take off, Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen by birth faced the bureaucratic hurdles of working as a professional soccer player south of the border. Frustrated, the athlete returned home to his native United States.
The United States was embroiled in a fight against terrorism in Afghanistan during the same time. Rodriguez felt he owed his country something back for everything it had done for his family.
Warned by his Marine recruiter he would most probably deploy for a combat tour, the high school soccer and track star was unfazed, joining the Marines in October 2003.
“I remember when 9/11 happened, I wanted to do my part in the fight against terrorism on behalf of my family,” said the class of 2002 graduate from East Aurora High School. “Later, I ended up joining the Marines because I owed the United States for giving the opportunity to my family to become Americans, to excel and become something when they had nothing.”
Rodriguez didn’t go to Afghanistan, but he did deploy to Iraq in the beginning of February, 2005. It was there he participated as a radio operator with 2nd Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Platoon and Motor Transportation Platoon, II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group, II MEF (FWD). He assisted by helping maintain lines of communication between armored vehicles through more than 100 convoy operations everywhere between Fallujah, Iraq, and the Syrian border.
“I remember receiving hostile fire, seeing tracer rounds going past us in front of our vehicle,” Rodriguez said, describing one particular mission. “I was like, ‘are they shooting at us?’ And my (gunnery sergeant) said, ‘Yeah they are shooting at us!’”
Completing the job, as countless of other Marines have done during their deployment to a combat zone, Rodriguez returned to the states in early 2006. As he comes closer toward the end of his enlistment, soccer dreams come to mind.
Teammates on the base soccer team take note of his attitude as a Marine and of his versatility and skill as a soccer player.
“I know him to be a squared away Marine, from the way he talks and carries himself,” said Sgt. Alan E. Quintanilla, 31, a teammate assigned to 8th Communications Battalion, II Marine Expeditionary Force. “He runs everywhere during a game which makes him hard to stop. When he has the ball, he’s quick and sends the ball exactly where it needs to be at. He’s the guy who makes the plays happen.”
Even if Rodriguez leaves the Marines after his enlistment, he said he will never forget his time on active duty and the reason he joined.
“I wanted to do something else that made a difference,” the war veteran said. “I wanted to make a difference not only in my life but the lives of others.”
As countless of others before him, this young man with sports aspirations has made a difference through his service to others in the Corps.
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