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Ordinary men do extraordinary things

By ERIC HOOVER

Special to The Express

My name is Eric B. Hoover. I retired July 15, 2018 after 26 years of military service. I’ve spent 17 years of my life fighting in the war on terror. This experience has given me the rare opportunity to see unfiltered humanity.

I’ve witnessed the absolute worst of people in the thralls of hatred, fear and desperation. In turn, I have seen such incredible acts of heroism, selfless sacrifice and commitment to duty that it caused my heart to swell with pride. With all the examples I could give or the stories I could tell you, one stands out to me the most. One story, I believe is my duty to tell.

In the spring of 2012, I was an Infantry Platoon Sargent in the U.S. Army, deployed to the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. Serving with me during this time as a Team Leader was 22-year-old SGT. Jose Rodriguez from Gustine, Calif., also known as Rod.

Rod at the time wasn’t the fastest, the strongest or the best shot in my platoon. He was a good soldier with determination toward developing his skills into become a better soldier. But the most important thing SGT. Rodriguez had to offer was a lesson I had yet to learn from him. A lesson that would change me for the rest of my life.

On June 1, 2012, day two of a three-day mission, my platoon was running dangerously low on water. Our position was close enough to a supply point to take a small detachment of men on foot and replenish our water. I chose myself and 12 other men to carry out this task. Tired, dehydrated and burdened with additional water resupply weight, we were attacked with a command detonated I.E.D. Myself and two other soldiers were seriously injured in the blast.

As the chaos of the event unfolded, I struggled to gather my senses and take control of the situation. I prepared myself and the functioning soldiers remaining in the detachment for the follow-up attack I was more than sure was to ensue. As I shouted tactical commands to maneuver soldiers into good defensible positions, I felt suddenly weak and fell to my knees. I was beginning to succumb to massive blood loss from my wounds. I knew I didn’t have long until I would lose consciousness, so I cried out for help.

Who came to my aid wasn’t the fastest soldier in my platoon or the strongest or even the best shot, it was SGT. Jose Rodriguez. In the face of danger with no regard for his own safety, he made his way to my exposed position and began to perform first aid. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I saw this young man attend to my wounds with the utmost focus, disregarding all the peril around him. Rod stayed by my side securing my position until the Medevac helicopters arrived. He placed me on a litter and helped carry me to safety.

As I laid in a hospital bed between surgeries, I had time to think. Time to think how I had placed the value of a soldier on his physical abilities and the assessment of his measurable tactical skill. Although the previously ascribed are very important, they are merely a delivery system for the most important attribute of them all — courage! Never again would I place a value of another person by anything less than the merits of their heart. I could not wait to see SGT. Rodriguez again and not only thank him for saving my life but thank him for the valuable lesson he had taught me.

Sadly SGT. Jose Rodriguez was killed in action 18 days later caused by enemy small arms fire. I never got to tell him how I felt, and how much what he did meant to me.

Today I’m retired, residing in my hometown close to almost all my family. I get to enjoy my beautiful wife, three amazing kids, my first grandson. None of this would be possible without the selfless acts and courage of SGT. Jose Rodriguez.

Every year around June 19 I tell his story to whomever will listen. I will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I do this to make sure the memory of the man I never got to thank lives on, and to pass on the lesson I learned. Seemingly ordinary people are capable of extraordinary things, and a person’s character is what we should value most.

——

Eric B. Hoover was born

and raised in Lock Haven.

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