LANSING, Mich. –
The Michigan National Guard values and celebrates the diversity and dynamic backgrounds of service members in our ranks. Throughout the year as we recognize the unique contributions these brave men and women bring to our formation, we want to share some of their stories with you. This month as we observe Hispanic Heritage Month, we have asked Maj. Rebecca Rodriguez to share her story.
“This is the way I think about it; I really have the best of three worlds,” says Maj. Rebecca Rodriguez, executive officer for the general staff within the 46th Military Police Command. “The best of Puerto Rico, Mexico and the United States of America.”
A single Latina mother of two, Rodriguez serves full time in the Michigan National Guard as an Active Guard Reserve (AGR) at Joint Forces Headquarters based in Lansing. In her limited spare time, she also competes professionally as a fitness model, traveling to national competitions across the country.
When not competing, she enjoys cheat days filled with Mexican food and drinks, including the cold, creamy beverage made of rice, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon referred to as horchata (pronounced “or-CHAW-ta”).
“Drinking horchata was definitely a staple in my household growing up,” says Rodriguez. “It was something we looked forward to as kids; it didn’t happen every day. My mom would make this sweet milk as a treat, so now when I have an opportunity to order an horchata, I definitely go for it!”
Rodriguez is the highly motivated product of a Puerto Rican father and Mexican mother. She was born and raised in Adrian, home to a substantial Hispanic population. She learned gratitude from an young age, grasping hold of early opportunities in her community.
“What it boils down to is opportunity and giving back,” she explains. “The best way to give back to our community is through service. When I look at young Soldiers just starting their military career, even when I look at my own children, I want them to be proud of their background and culture, and to be appreciative of the opportunities the United States provides.”
Rodriguez says she never forgets her Hispanic roots and the opportunities afforded to her as an American citizen who chose to serve her country in the military.
“While my father was born and raised in Puerto Rico, my mother and grandmother were both born in the U.S.,” shares Rodriguez. “Working in the fields and on farms, my mother’s side of the family migrated from Texas throughout the Midwest, then finally ended up in Michigan due to the need for migratory farmworkers, picking cherries, tomatoes and strawberries. My mom continued to work in the fields even after having children before pursuing her degree in English from Siena Heights University.”
“I am the first generation where my family chose to stay in one spot here in Michigan, as my mother pursued a career in teaching,” she adds.
Rodriguez’s mother placed a strong emphasis on education, ultimately leading her to obtain her degree from the University of Michigan. She started attending in 2000 and experienced the 9/11 tragedy during her second year.
Rodriguez explains, “When 9/11 happened, it was truly devastating. Not only did it change my entire life path, but also that of many people from my generation, particularly, those who chose to enter into military service.”
Something that really encouraged Rodriguez during that difficult time was remembering her Hispanic heritage.
“My Latino friends influenced me to join a Hispanic advocacy group called La Voz (meaning The Voice),” Rodriguez shares. “It was designed to support the Latino community through bringing awareness about opportunities Latinos might not have known about, specifically as it pertains to employment and education.”
Rodriguez shares how this organization gave what she calls the Latino “silent minority” a voice where they might otherwise have not had one.
“I really liked this organization because one of the issues that plagues many Latino American communities is that they don’t always speak up for their rights,” shares Rodriguez. “There’s also a tendency to not pass along our Spanish language to the next generation. They want to be fully American and speaking English helps to fully integrate them more into American society.”
Joining this organization is also what inspired Rodriguez to join the military and give back in a greater way. But first she decided to study developing nation healthcare in the Dominican Republic during her third year of college.
“At one point, I lived in a neighborhood that did not have running water or electricity,” shares Rodriguez. “I teamed with a Peace Corps friend on a project to help bring a filtration system to a northern Dominican community that previously had no running water.”
Together with the Peace Corps, Rodriguez not only completed the filtration system to help filter out some of the parasites that were plaguing the community, but she also taught people how to maintain the system and assisted in educational programs for women.
“When I returned to the United States from the Dominican Republic, I experienced something I call reverse culture shock,” shares Rodriguez. “I had become accustomed to living with very few amenities or luxuries, things like warm showers, electricity and plumbing that we take for granted here in America. It gave me a newfound appreciation for what we have in this country.”
During her final year at the University of Michigan, she went back to studying bio-psychology and cognitive science. She began to realize how her degree in bio-psychology could tie into government and military service.
“I saw an opportunity with that type of education and background,” shares Rodriguez. “So I was interested in giving back in that way. It’s essentially what lead me to pursue a career in the military.”
After graduating from Officer Candidate School, Rodriguez commissioned in March 2011 and almost immediately deployed to Afghanistan as a transportation officer with the 1461st Transportation Company, running convoy operations during Operation Enduring Freedom.
“When I was deployed, we issued awards within our organization and I was given something called The Patriot Award,” shares Rodriguez. “My Soldiers said, ‘Ma’am, every time you pull us in, you always pump us up!’”
Reflecting on her military career, Rodriguez shares how she feels very fortunate to have selected this path.
“For me, being in uniform and serving in a position where I can lead and provide opportunities to people, whether through education or leadership development, that’s what we fight for at the end of the day,” she shares. “I want to provide this to people while defending the American way of life.”
Taking time to think about Hispanic Heritage month is important to Rodriguez for many reasons. There is no argument that diversity is imperative within any healthy organization.
To this point, Rodriguez adds, “It’s not just about Hispanic Heritage month, it’s about diversity and inclusion. Whether it is Hispanic, African American, Christian or Muslim, man or woman, it’s critical for organizations to actively involve people of diverse backgrounds, to strengthen the organization and improve the command climate.”
Rodriguez sees herself as a role model. Utilizing her Hispanic heritage, she makes the most of opportunities and encourages others to do the same.
“I know that within the Michigan National Guard there are many underrepresented service members who are very talented,” Rodriguez shares. “I offer hope, encouragement and I try to provide a voice to those service members by basing my leadership philosophy on servitude. I constantly work to open doors of opportunity to demonstrate that everyone, regardless of their race or creed, is capable of doing so much within our organization and within our communities at large.”
She adds, “This way of life was given to me. Now I fight hard to make sure others can experience that gift as well.”