Absence can be hard on military families during the holiday season

December 26, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — Technology has made it easier for people to keep in contact with friends and family far away, but that distance is still felt by those in the military that keep our nation safe.

Enrique Rodriguez of Alliance has spent the past Thanksgiving away from his wife and two children. It will be the same on Christmas and New Year’s.

Rodriguez, a staff sergeant with the Nebraska Army National Guard, is spending the holidays in the Rio Grande Valley for Operation Guardian Support, helping guard the Texas border from illegal crossings and other activity.

“We’re providing logistical support for the U.S. Border Patrol,” Rodriguez said. “This helps free up their agents so they can be in the field.”

A 2004 Morrill High School graduate, Rodriguez attended the University of Nebraska at Kearney for two years before moving back to the area. As he admitted, he hasn’t moved around a lot.

A member of the National Guard for the past 10 years, Rodriguez is currently a squad leader at the 1057th Military Police Company in Scottsbluff, overseeing about seven fellow soldiers.

“Down here on the border I’m also a squad leader managing a team of camera operators,” he said. “We watch the cameras and sensors and when they’re triggered, we’re in radio contact with the Border Patrol to guide them in to where there could be illegal crossings or drug activity.”

Rodriguez described the mission as pretty cut and dried with nothing “insane” going on. He will be on the border at least until next April, maybe October if government funding is available and the mission is extended.

Although Rodriguez is the only soldier from western Nebraska, his group has become like a family. As he gets to know people, it’s as if they’ve known each other for a lot longer than when they arrived.

“There’s definitely no lack of family environment,” he said. “We have Guard members from Texas and Kentucky and also Air Force members.”

While it’s been tough being away from his wife, Katie, and two children back in Alliance, Rodriguez said modern technology has made “face time” easier as the family remains in contact during his deployment.

“This is the first time we’ve actually had to go through this,” Katie Rodriguez said. “With the holidays coming up, I’m not really sure how I’m feeling about it. The kids are a little bit sad that their dad can’t be around, but we’ve found ways to make it work.”

Making it work includes sending Rodriguez gifts, handmade picture ornaments and a little tree so he can have some holiday spirit.

“We’re trying to keep him as involved as we can,” she said.

Katie Rodriguez agreed that having video conferencing available makes it much easier to stay in touch, especially for the kids – Xavier, who’s 7, and Claudia, who’s 2.

Jeff Jay, pastor of the Lighthouse Community Assembly of God in Minatare, served as a chaplain during the surge in Iraq in 2006. He said it’s different for every family when a military member is stationed elsewhere during special events at home.

“The service member is sometimes serving in harm’s way and is separated from family for anniversaries, birthdays and holidays,” Jay said. “When an event comes up that requires a military response, the consideration for those types of things are minimal in consideration of completing the mission.”

Jay said he’s also seen a lot of weariness from military members who are away from home for extended periods.

“America has been at war with insurgents in the Middle East for the past 16 years,” he said. “I don’t know if our military are prepared to be at war for that long.”

During his 15 months in Iraq, Jay said there was one song the soldiers kept remembering – the classic “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” from World War II.

“It was a time for them to reflect on the goodness of what was going on at home,” Jay said. “But we also recognized the mission we were there for and we were ready for it. As service men and women, that’s what we do.”

Jay added that in stressful times, or not-so-stressful times, those in the military will bond as a sort of family because their very lives can often depend on each other.

“During the pressures of combat, it really helps us as a unit to draw strength from each other,” he said. “We’re not alone. We’re just not with our families.”

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