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ANG member shares deployment experience

Brig. Gen. John Hammond, 26th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade commander, pins on the Combat Action Badge onto Senior Master Sgt. Emilio Rodriguez, 161st Security Forces Squadron, in Afghanistan. Sergeant Rodriguez deployed as the Provost Marshall Sergeant Major for the Kabul Capital Base Cluster from August through December 2011. Sergeant Rodriguez and his Airmen fought side-by-side next to Soldiers and coalition forces following insurgent attacks Sept. 13, 2011, on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters. The Combat Action Badge was approved by the Army chief of Staff in 2005 to provide special recognition to Soldiers who personally engage or are engaged by the enemy. (Courtesy photo)

Brig. Gen. John Hammond, 26th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade commander, pins on the Combat Action Badge onto Senior Master Sgt. Emilio Rodriguez, 161st Security Forces Squadron, in Afghanistan. Sergeant Rodriguez deployed as the Provost Marshall Sergeant Major for the Kabul Capital Base Cluster from August through December 2011. Sergeant Rodriguez received the Army’s Combat Action Badge for being engaged by small arms fire during a convoy escort operation. The Combat Action Badge was approved by the Army chief of Staff in 2005 to provide special recognition to Soldiers who personally engage or are engaged by the enemy. (Courtesy photo)

PHOENIX SKY HARBOR AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE -- Physical fitness, training and experience were things that one Arizona Air National Guardsman found to be critical to his ability to complete his mission during a recent deployment to Afghanistan.

Senior Master Sgt. Emilio Rodriguez, 161st Security Forces Squadron, deployed as the Provost Marshall Sergeant Major for the Kabul Capital Base Cluster from August through December 2011.

While deployed, Sergeant Rodriguez covered 10 forward operating bases for all customs, law enforcement and investigations. As the drawdown of troops kicked in, Sergeant Rodriguez and his team began to get assignments for personal security details for general officers, convoy escort and Afghan national police mentoring.

According to Sergeant Rodriguez, being in good physical shape to be able to complete the mission was critical.

"I had an eye opening experience my first week there," he said. "We were on dismounted (walking) patrols covering 6 miles. We all had to be in physical and mental shape as we were looking for improvised explosive devices and patrolling the perimeter in high temperatures while carrying 25 to 30 additional pounds of protective gear and equipment."

The temperatures while Sergeant Rodriguez was deployed were anywhere from 110 to 115 degrees down to 30 to 40 degrees for the lows. The elevation, which is 6,000 feet, could also be a factor for those who are out of physical shape, he said.

"Physical fitness comes into play quite a bit," Sergeant Rodriguez said. "I am a former Marine Corps infantryman and we used to do that type of exercise all the time. It was definitely eye opening to be doing it again 20 years later."

In addition to his physical training, Sergeant Rodriguez said that his civilian experience as a police officer was crucial in his ability to complete the law enforcement and investigation portions of his mission.

"We assisted the counter intelligence and Criminal Investigation Department with outside the wire raids," he said. "We recovered $350,000 in stolen goods from U.S. bases at the local bazaars in downtown Kabul."

Security Forces personnel don't typically do investigations, he said. Because of his experience with investigating narcotics in Arizona and Pittsburgh, Sergeant Rodriguez did not waste any time in getting to work upon arrival in Afghanistan.

"Within one month, we investigated and made arrests for drug trafficking and prostitution," he said. "We recovered six kilos of heroin and hashish. The Army's 26th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade was very happy to see what the U.S. Air Force Security Forces brought to the table. The commander recognized 10 of our Airmen and Soldiers for a job well done."

Insurgents launched rockets and gunfire on the U.S. Embassy and NATO headquarters Sept. 18, 2011. The attacks began with a series of explosions that enabled Taliban fighters to get into a nine-story building that was under construction, which was about 800 yards from the base.

"Our Airmen fought side-by-side next to the Army soldiers and coalition forces," he said. "They earned the Army Combat Action Badge for their actions."

Sergeant Rodriguez also received the Army's Combat Action Badge for being engaged by small arms fire during a convoy escort operation.

Sergeant Rodriguez gives much credit to those left behind who ensured he had everything he needed while he was gone things.

"The Prescott Valley Police Department and the (161st) Security Forces sent weekly care packages," he said. "Each week, we'd get all the troops together and open the boxes. Each person could go through it and pick and choose what they wanted. Everyone looked forward to it and it was a big morale booster."

In addition to his employer and squadron's support, Sergeant Rodriguez said he appreciated his wife who made sure everything was taken care of at home so he could do his mission overseas.

"She is my better half and really took care of everything for me while I was gone," he said. "Without my wife's support in taking care of the things I typically do at home, I would not have been able to do as well as I did."