MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- “Personnel to be awarded, center…march,” commanded the 2nd Tank Battalion’s commanding officer.
Sergeant Radames Rodriguez Jr., a Queens, N.Y., native, with Company D, 2nd Tank Battalion marched with precision as he was in between two other sergeants as he marched forward to receive their Tankers of the Year awards.
With a cool breeze in the air, the Memorial McClancy High School graduate, and the two others made a right facing movement, placing them at the position of attention, presented a hand salute, then cut it crisply after the commanding officer returned his salute.
“Of all the people who it could have been, I had no idea I was one until they told me I had to go up on a board,” said Rodriguez, who played baseball in his younger years.
All of those attending the ceremony listened to a citation explaining the actions the three sergeants took and why they were chosen to receive the award, while they were presented with the awards. These three Marines were chosen from among 735 other Marines and sailors who make up 2nd Tank Bn.
Rodriguez, along with many other Marines from the battalion, deployed in the first stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Starting in Kuwait, they made their way through large-scale firefights as they entered Iraq for the first time. Rodriguez and the other tankers from the battalion kept their bearing as rounds impacted on and close to their tanks.
Facing many struggles while moving up through Kuwait and Iraq, the three sergeants were a part of the first wave of Marines into Baghdad. His crew along with the many others banded together to defeat the enemy as they faced the first of many attacks from the Iraqis.
He completed the mission looking adversity in the face and overcoming tough situations with the help of his Marines under his command.
“Being the first of all the groups to go into Iraq, we saw all of the first firefights, and we’re the first into Baghdad,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez and the other two gave a salute, faced left, and marched to the rear of the formation after receiving their awards.
All in attendance congratulated the Marines, then Rodriguez and the others all gathered together to take pictures with friends and family as the ceremony came to a close.
The Tankers Association, which is made up of many gray haired former tankers selected Rodriguez as a recipient. They gathered together from all over the United States. Members of the association, who usually display their red Marine Corps jackets with patches showing where they have been and what they have done, presented the awards at the 20th Annual Tanker of the Year Award ceremony.
“Getting recognized by former Marines who know our job in and out, is an honor,” Rodriguez added.
Prior to choosing Rodriguez and the other Marines for the Tanker of the Year Award, members of the association deliberated over who deserved recognition.
Rodriguez was surprised to find out he was chosen. When asked about the best part of receiving the award he said he felt that all the hard work paid off.
“The extra hours and the unseen things that we do, most people don’t know about, and it’s nice to get recognized,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez found himself surrounded by people who knew what he did and how important it really was as he walked around conversing with the former Marines about his experiences as a tanker.
He is used to making sure his crew is taken care of and are performing their duties correctly from his time as a tank commander,. Not only is he responsible for his crew, he is responsible for the maintenance of his tank. Having had good leaders and role models has enabled him to become the leader he his today.
“I have had good leaders in the past who have helped me become the leader that I am today,” said the former Martial Artist.
Being in a martial arts program requires much dedication, concentration and commitment. Learning these types of characteristics prior to joining the Corps, Rodriguez was able to take the skills and characteristics he already knew and apply them to help make himself a better Marine.
“I use to be in the Army Reserves before I became a Marine,” Rodriguez added when talking about his reasons for joining the Corps. “I came into the Corps with an open contract just wanting to get in and be a part of the brotherhood.”
During the annual visit from the Tankers Association, Rodriguez and many other Marines from the battalion interacted with the former Marines. He spent time explaining the different functions and general operations of the current model of tanks. He was able to take time to talk to them and bring them up to speed on what was happening with the new tanks and how they worked.
Rodriguez also spent time with the Marines as they told “sea stories” from their time in the Corps. Listening to the men speak with enthusiasm about their journeys, Rodriguez and his fellow Marines took in as much as they could and learned from the knowledge that was passed on to them.
“Being able to talk with the former tankers about what they went through and how we can train and prepare for certain things really helped out,” Rodriguez added.
After taking time to look at the static display, Rodriguez and many other Marines took everyone up to the safety tower to view a live-fire display of the tanks firing on fixed and moving targets. Rodriguez, along with others, explained what was happening, how the tanks were moving, why the tanks shot at certain targets and what types of ammunition was used in practice compared to combat situations.
Many of the former Marines were not familiar with the new technology the Corps was using in its tanks. This offered him and others a chance to help explain and teach the old “Devil Dogs” the new tricks of the trade.
“Taking the time to talk to them was a good chance to help them become better acquainted with the tanks we use,” Rodriguez said.
After viewing the live-fire exercise, more stories were shared. Rodriguez and the other award winners accompanied their battalion and the Tankers Association to lunch back at a mess hall where more friendly conversation took place.
With the 20th annual gathering for the awarding of the Tankers of the Year, many stories were swapped and laughter was spread all around. Knowledge and life lessons were passed to young Marines like Rodriguez in hopes that one day they will be coming back to visit and share their experiences.