AR RAMADI, Iraq -- There’s an old saying in the Marines that ‘Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.’ But there’s one gunnery sergeant in the 2nd Marine Division who will argue against that saying.
Gunnery Sgt. Joe Singh Rodriguez, the Division’s anti-terrorism force protection chief is a Marine with a wealth of experience very few others can compete with. His two sons who are emulating their father were born into that legacy.
The Brawley, Calif. native is a veteran of more than 30 years in the nation’s smallest service and an owner of a multi-million dollar security corporation. His background is steeped in special training reserved for small, clandestine units.
Rodriguez is a man of immense stature with a tan, weathered face and eyes permanently squinted from too many days under the sun. His initial active duty service consisted of six years in Force Reconnaissance -- three years as a ‘recon’ instructor at Amphibious Reconnaissance School and three years in Nuclear Security.
He worked as a nuclear security supervisor, guarding weapons and weapon components. Some of that stint was the former Nuclear Weapons Station in Charleston, S.C. where he applied his small unit tactics to secure some of the nation’s most vital assets.
“Back then we had no formalized training,” said Rodriguez. “I ended up making my own team and we were successful because of good leadership and we focused on the mission.”
The unusual aspect of Rodriguez’ long career is that for most of it, he remained in reserve status, only called upon for special projects. Normally, reserve Marines are called up to deploy with units they drill with one weekend per month and two weeks a year.
“After doing those jobs, I left active duty and became a reservist to concentrate on raising my sons and improving my business,” said Rodriguez. “The same philosophies I’ve applied to my career in the Corps, I bring to my civilian life.”
As a reservist, he proudly admits that he resigned from the Individual Readiness Reserve to avoid promotion and focus on business. This is because he is a man who knows exactly what he wants.
“Gunnery sergeant is the best and only rank for a Marine 03 (0311 infantry military occupational specialty),” said a defiant Rodriguez. “They told me they wanted to promote me and I told them goodbye. Gunny is the ultimate rank.”
His expertise in security doesn’t just lie in the military sector. His upwards of $40,000,000 business with 1,100 employees in more than 20 states and Canada is a testament to his sound judgment when it comes to this kind of business.
Rodriguez owns Security Consultants Group, Inc. in Oak Ridge, Tenn., a security and technical consulting firm that handles clients worldwide. His business success is a direct result of what he learned in the Marines; teamwork and focusing on the mission.
During the earlier years of his corporation, he actually dropped down to less than $1,000 in his bank account twice – sometimes staying in hotel parking lots while traveling.
His business thrives today because of his strong work ethic that roots back to the Corps and to the Bible.
“Everything you need to know about life and about running a business can be found in the Book of Proverbs,” said Rodriguez. The same thing goes for the Corps.
“If you combined the Marines’ ethics and the Book of Proverbs, your business would be smoking!”
Here in Iraq, Rodriguez and his colleagues work on establishing security, designing security programs and training the newly formed Iraqi military and civilian security forces. The 2nd Marine Division also uses his expertise in special warfare and plain ingenuity to accomplish their undertaking of rebuilding the infrastructure of this reemerging country.
Iraq already has the majority of the facilities they need and workers are ready to operate them. Rodriguez is the man to help get them up and running.
Though he is respected for his individual skills, he doesn’t do it alone. Rodriguez likes to work with teams. He doesn’t necessarily lead them, he just advises team leaders when they enter certain situations -- thus, keeping the integrity of leadership among the ranks of the squads, while accomplishing his mission.
“I have been asked by the Marine Corps several times to advise leadership on deployments or command operations,” Rodriguez said. “I leave the platoon commanders to their Marines and I confer with the leadership on the missions – they’re the ones really running the show.”
When it comes to running his own show, he’s no fool either. He is a master of rigging surveillance cameras to his own specifications. Nobody can go in or out of his building without being recorded. He’s one who seems to have eyes in back of his head.
This led to Rodriguez actually being hired by the U.S. Government to bypass security systems and counter weaknesses by implementing an integrated approach with emphasis on root cause analysis. By finding the root of any problem and analyzing how to correct it, success can be obtained in any situation.
He has slipped by every security measure the government had to include microwave and infrared sensors. Rodriguez’ business is so successful his people are entrusted with the security of several Federal Buildings throughout the nation.
Other clients include the presidential libraries and U.S. Department of Energy buildings and laboratories. As the government increasingly privatizes its security needs, Rodriguez’s business flourishes.
Rodriguez’ philosophy on success in leadership is something he has always wanted to spread throughout the Corps. He believes the Corps’ lance corporals, third from the bottom in the rank system, are the backbone of the service’s structure.
“I live for the lance corporal,” said Rodriguez. “If we place more emphasis on them in everything we do, the Corps would be wildly successful – beyond anyone’s imagination.”
And just when the Corps’ elite forces thought they broke the mold with this high-caliber Marine, they found themselves mistaken.
Rodriguez’ son, Joe, recently completed Marine Corps recruit training. And his other son, Frank, is about to join the ranks.
Eighteen-year-old Frank plans to join after he finishes his senior year at Oak Ridge High School.
Joe is about to finish the School of Infantry East at Camp Geiger, N.C. and has taken the reconnaissance indoctrination. He is a world away from where he was last year on the college campus.
Joe spent a year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and decided the life of a scholar wasn’t where his interests were. His father’s long and exciting career enticed him to follow a similar path.
Now, Joe is experiencing first hand just what that is like. No longer will he hear sea stories from his father and dream about what it would be like to live them – he will create his own.
Rodriguez’ sons were inspired by his dedication and accomplishments in the Corps. And he remains a kindhearted-father figure to many of the Marines who work with him as well.
“I'm hoping to do like my dad did and become a Force Recon Marine,” said Joe. “I passed the indoctrination recently and I’m hoping to be picked. I did OK on the test, but not as good as what I thought I could do -- but did alright.”
As Joe awaits orders for his first duty station, he realizes his father’s will be tough shoes to fill. Even after the Marines, Joe hopes to continue working with his father, though.
“As for after the Corps, I want to enter real estate and other business ventures with my dad,” he explained.
His sons’ decision to join the Marines wasn’t exactly what Rodriguez had in mind, though.
“I would prefer they go to college and make a decision afterwards,” Rodriguez said. “I never went to college and I want my sons to get the education. But I taught my boys to dream . . . and act on those dreams.
“I have mixed emotions about the whole thing. On one hand, I look at the Marines as my own brothers and I love that they want to be a part of that. But on the other, I’ve gotta’ be a Marine and a dad to Marines. That’s tough.”
For most of his life, Rodriguez has been responsible for taking care of his own. But he didn’t think he’d be doing it in a combat zone where, more than likely, his sons may deploy. Regardless, he will recognize his sons as brothers-in-arms.
“In the Marine Corps as a leader you care for other families’ children,” Rodriguez said. “You get close to them. When it’s your son out there it’s even more worrisome.”
Rodriguez uses his life as an example for his children by serving his Corps faithfully and being a successful businessman. He displays the same example he sets for his own sons when speaking to underprivileged children at schools and boys prisons. It’s what he likes to do to give something back to the community – to give these children a chance to have the opportunities he’s made for himself. Rodriguez doesn’t covet his knowledge, he openly shares it.
“I bring my message to them because you can’t teach about being poor or disadvantaged,” he explained. “Poor people already know about being poor. I speak to them about hopes and opportunities in our country.”
Because Rodriguez grew up in tough conditions, he can relate to them. And with his experience from the Corps and starting his own business, he’s able to get through.
Rodriguez impresses to the youth the ideals of focusing on life goals and learning the basics of his leadership creed – God, Corps and team.
“In that order, nothing else,” Rodriguez proclaimed.
Rodriguez has undoubtedly been successful in life and in the Corps. He has a loving family, a thriving business and a selfless Marine Corps career. The legacy is soon to be continued on by his sons.
“It’s up to you to make it happen,” he said. “The recipe for success is constantly assessing the situation, creating a plan and implementing it. In short – work hard, and dream even harder.”