In 1993, Lt. Col. Rick Rodrigues retired after two decades serving the U.S. Army, later beginning a long career as a financial consultant at First National Bank of Brookfield.
Nearly 14 years after retiring from the military, Rodrigues was contacted by the infantry branch of the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command and asked to return for active duty. Rodrigues will discuss “My Year in Iraq” at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the First National Bank of Brookfield, 9136 Washington Ave. The talk is open to the public.
The Army had been approaching retirees “due to the personnel shortage after nearly seven years of war,” Rodrigues explained.
After some soul-searching and discussion with his family, “I said yes because I felt it was the right thing to do,” Rodrigues said. “The army gave me my first career, which included my education and many personal growth opportunities.”
Rodrigues said he likened the request to “a family member or a very good friend asking for help.”
So Rodrigues agreed to accept a one-year assignment on the Multi-National Force Iraq Staff, working as a strategic planner in the Directorate of Strategic Operations.
The Multi-National Force had been mandated to support Iraq’s transition to a democratic form of government. The team briefed Gen. David Petraeus, who then served as commanding general.
Rodrigues said that like nationals of the former Soviet republics, Iraqi citizens had little frame of reference for a free society.
“You begin with baby steps,” he said. “We can assist them, but we cannot do it for them.”
Rodrigues said that by the time he left Iraq, “the provinces were being turned over to Iraqi control. We have to maintain the structure that provides for stability and confidence for the Iraqis. The solution has to be something that will work for them.”
He was deployed in May 2007, “just as the surge was ready to be implemented,” he said. “During the time I was there, all of Iraq was a dangerous place to be. The work is difficult, the hours are very long, and it’s a very stressful environment, with no days off. It’s all business.”
Rodrigues spoke highly of the soldiers who face all of these challenges.
“Our young soldiers have done everything asked of them, with little complaint and outstanding results,” he said. “Most are doing many jobs they were not trained to do, but they rely on their common sense, initiative and good leadership to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.”
Rodrigues said he is proud of his country’s “tough, fair-mined and compassionate” soldiers, whom he described as “the best in the world.”
Still, he said he is glad to be home. In all, he served just over 21 years of active duty, three years separated from his family.
“From this point forward, I don’t plan to add to that,” he said.
Rodrigues said he’ll be spending a lot more time with his wife Lisa, two daughters and two grandchildren, “enjoying everything that Chicago has to offer.”