MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
“I wanted to be the best and make a difference. I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to be one of the few.” ~Gunnery Sgt. Esteban Rodriguez, career planner for 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.
He grew up in the poverty-stricken streets of Michoacan, Mexico where shoes were a luxury and electricity and running water were nonexistent. Living out of a mud hut and bathing in a nearby river were enduring obstacles and education took a backseat to survival.
“It was pretty rough,” said Rodriguez. “There was very little education and there were times when I would go to bed without eating.”
His mother left for the United States when he was a baby in search of a better life for her family. She learned how to read and speak English without the help of any formal schooling and took various jobs in hopes of bringing her family to the U.S. “She was a single Mother,” Rodriguez said. “She is such a hard worker and she suffered and sacrificed a lot for us. I wanted to succeed to make her proud. I wanted her to know that all the sacrifices she made meant something.”
At the age of 13, he traveled to Illinois to meet up with his mother.
“When I got to the United States I had my first burger, my first pair of shoes and I had to learn how to use utensils,” said Rodriguez. “I had to learn how to speak Spanish properly, in order to learn English.”
After being enrolled in the Cicero school system, Rodriguez began a grade behind his peers due to a lack of education and difficulty with the language. Despite wanting to play sports, he took night classes to catch up with his class and worked two jobs after school to help his family.
“I asked my mom if I could play sports,” he reminisced. “I wanted to be on the wrestling team and play basketball. She said ‘of course,’ but as soon as I started, I realized that money was tight. My mom was hurting and she couldn’t give us what we wanted or what we needed. So I gave up sports to go to school and get a job.”
He graduated from high school in 2001 with thoughts of becoming a police officer, but enlisted in the Marine Corps to gain experience and serve his country. “The U.S. has done so much for me,” he said. “I wanted to serve my country and I was motivated to do more. I was nervous because I wanted to succeed, I wanted to do more than just have a job and be able to provide. I wanted to do more than just the average Joe Shmoe.”
He joined the infantry as an anti-tank assault man with 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment and did one tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. Upon returning, he decided to change jobs to a career planner where he could help the Marines he worked next too everyday.
“I love being a career planner,” Rodriguez said with a smile. “Sometimes it’s tough to see Marines who think I’m here to recruit them, but I’m here to give them their options and assist with their decision. I do my best to meet their needs and I make myself available as much as possible.”
He served as a career planner with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, 2nd Marine Special Operation Battalion as well as the Marine Special Operation Schoolhouse before returning to 2/8.
“He took over a program at 2/8 that was broken and in need of someone to take care of the Marines,” said Master Sgt. Mark H. McKay, the staff noncommissioned officer in charge of the 2nd Marine Division Career Planning Program. “There were 300 interviews that were delinquent, he quickly identified those Marines and completed those interviews. He worked sun up to sun down to get the program back to where it needed to be. From that point on we knew that having him there in 2/8 was going to be nothing but positive.”
Due to his tireless work ethic and dedication, his command nominated him as the career planner of the year in 2008, 2009 and again in 2010. He received the Commandants Career Planner of the Year for 2010 and was meritoriously promoted to gunnery sergeant.
“I was shocked and honored to receive the award,” Rodriguez said. “Seeing the Marines happy, coming and shaking my hand and saying thank you makes it all worth while. The smiles on their faces make all the difference.”
Rodriguez is currently preparing for a future deployment overseas where he will act as both a career planner and the SNCOIC of a personal security detachment. With new challenges on the horizon, he leaves his junior Marines with these words of advice:
“Remember why you joined the Marine Corps. Remember to uphold the image of the United States Marine. Take advantage of the opportunities the Marine Corps offers and whether you do four years or 20, have fun.”