MCAS Yuma’s noncommissioned officer of the year for 2012 rarely dons the Marine pattern cammies other personnel on station wear; his job doesn’t require it.
Sgt. Ernesto Rodriguez, Jr., Agent Rodriguez to you, is part of the base’s Criminal Investigation Division, a group of Marines and civilians tasked with the dubious honor of separating truth from fiction during criminal investigations.
To maintain a low profile, Rodriguez and the other Marines wear civilian attire. Even so . . .
“A Marine CID Agent is still a Marine,” said Rodriguez. “Although we communicate with commanding officers and sergeants major on a ‘level playing field’ to discuss the status or results of criminal investigations, the professionalism and mutual respect is still always there.”
“With that being said, rank does not factor in on certain occasions,” he added. “As accredited criminal investigators, we will still hold all Marines accountable for their actions, regardless of rank.”
Rodriguez grew up in the football-centric community of Harlingen, Texas, an area known as the Rio Grande Valley. Despite having loose familial connections to the military via marriage, Rodriguez decided he was going to be a Marine when he was a junior at Harlingen High School.
“The inspiration came early in wanting to emulate my father, Ernesto Rodriguez,” Rodriguez said. His other inspirations included football coaches, Randy Creators, Manny Gomez, Monty Woodall, Bobby Lucio, and others.
“Their success, and constant positive reinforcement and guidance to be more than I was fueled my desire,” he added.
One does not stroll into a Marine recruiter’s office and casually sign on to be a criminal investigator, however. Marines vying for the position must be, at minimum, a sergeant. Rodriguez’ current position would come after he served as an aviation ordnanceman.
“I definitely had some good times,” Rodriguez said of his first military occupation. “One experience I remember clearly is downloading a bomb that failed to jettison during a mission on deployment. After having to download a hung JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) or Mavericks with explosive ordnance disposal standing by, it only solidified the meaning of IYAOYAS (If you ain’t ordnance, you ain’t *expletive*) to me.”
Just as he had benevolent forces around him while he was growing up, Rodriguez also credits his various commands as a driving force in his success.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had numerous positive experiences under leadership in many duties,” he said. “It really paved the way for me to realize I could do things I didn’t know I had in me, like mentoring other Marines, obtaining a 300 on the PFT (Physical Fitness Test), evacuating an aircraft hangar and putting out a fire.”
Though Rodriguez came up through the ranks in the aviation ordnance field, he originally intended to enlist as a military policeman. He eventually decided to make the switch, in tandem with working on a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice.
“I always had an interest in joining law enforcement, helping people, and criminal investigation,” Rodriguez said. “Since I was young, I can remember sitting with my mom and watching every TV show we could about forensics and solving crime.”
Rodriguez wasted no time in proving his mettle to CID; within his first seven months, he helped recover approximately $32,000 in stolen government and personal property, including CIF (Consolidated Issue Facility) gear, jewelry, electronics and automobiles.
“Recovering $32,000 in stolen property consisted of countless investigative endeavors, numerous investigations, and most importantly the guidance and assistance of several seasoned CID Agents, military policemen and various law enforcement agencies,” Rodriguez said. “I credit everyone involved with the recovery.”
Situations like that, its challenges and payoff, are the reason Rodriguez works with such zest at a job he describes as “never easy.”
“I would have to say the most difficult part of the job would be the operating tempo with limited personnel and resources,” he said. “The hours are long and situations are tough to solve. Compared to bigger bases like Camp Pendleton or Lejeune, Yuma might seem fairly quiet, but like anywhere else, it can still make responding to criminal activity 24/7 difficult.”
It’s a strange life; one probably doesn’t wake up hoping a CID agent speaks to them. Agents are essential in upholding Corps standards, appearing when needed, and thus, only in offending situations.
“The thank yous to CID agents everywhere are few and far between, but the need for our resolve makes the most rewarding part of the job experiencing the culmination of your work helping the victims of crime receive justice,” Rodriguez said.
Still, the job is not without its humor, or rather, humor that could only happen in the Marine Corps.
“Some of the most amusing cases I’ve investigated are larcenies where the culprit is the victim’s friend or roommate,” said Rodriguez. “It’s only amusing because Marines usually deny the fact their most trusted friends could be involved in the theft of their property, but eventually they see the truth come to light.”
Rodriguez enjoys his job. There’s no doubt about that. Everyone else enjoys his job, too, or what they think his job is.
“People rarely see the real life sacrifices being made each day,” said Rodriguez. “The hours or days expended on interviews, following leads; the time taken on detailed documentation and real effort put into simple, accurate reports.”
He also discussed how it’s easy for people to meld what they see on TV into real life. CID is not without its misconceptions.
“I’m sure we all agree the ‘cool’ parts look good on TV, and we enjoy looking cool, but until we’re struck by reality and veer away from Hollywood TV, we just won’t know the difference,” he added.
As an agent and a Marine, how does Rodriguez reconcile with being a noncommissioned officer?
“I try to impart anything I can to help, whether its guidance, motivation or education, I enjoy mentoring and instructing junior Marines,” he said. “It’s important to me to convey the mutual respect I have for them and to remind them the respect they receive in the future is a reflection of their actions in the past. “
This leadership philosophy is, for Rodriguez, not Corps-exclusive; on top of being NCO of the year and a 2nd Degree Black Belt Marine Corps Martial Arts Instructor, Rodriguez also offers his time to Yuma’s local community through volunteer opportunities.
Oh, and he’s a Youth Basketball coach for Marine Corps Community Services.
“My reasons for advancing to a 2nd Degree Black Belt MCMAI and serving the community are simple: it is who I am and what I enjoy doing,” Rodriguez said. “Training and working hard, eventually feeling achievement, success, and recognition are things I never did alone.”
Rodriguez received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal along with a plaque commending his service as the station’s NCO of the year, the result, according to Rodriguez, of hundreds of people’s help.
“I will always remember it was for my family, my friends, the Marines,” Rodriguez said, “and last but not certainly not least, for Harlingen High School, the Rio Grande Valley, and rest of Texas.”