FORT CARSON, Colo. - Balancing duties as a Soldier and a mother of three, one of whom is a special needs child, is just one of the challenges Sgt. Shanna Rodriguez has faced in her life.Rodriguez, health care specialist, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, entered service much later than most Soldiers.
Rodriguez said the spark to enlist ignited when her Marine father shared his photo album with her when she was 12 years old, but her plans changed when she married her high school sweetheart and started a family. Rodriguez's husband joined the Army in 2000 and she raised their three sons during his service at Fort Carson and foreign deployments.
Then when her second eldest son turned 8 years old, he was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome by an Army doctor and given a life expectancy of 12-20 years.
Sanfilippo syndrome is metabolism disorder that makes the body unable to properly break down long chains of sugar molecules called glycosaminoglycans.
"To find out that your son has something that there's no treatment or cure. That hit us really hard," said Rodriguez. "As a parent you want to protect your kids. I can't protect him from it; there's nothing that I can do."
She said they suffered through a gamut of emotions but eventually realized the need to focus on their son's life.
"He's here and he's healthy and, regardless of what the doctors are telling me, He's still my son and I'm going to treat him just like my other children," said Rodriguez. "Since that day, we don't care about the little things. We just want to give him the best while he is here."
Rodriguez's husband was honorably discharged from the Army in 2007 and they moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, where she worked as a 911 dispatcher. She said she lost her medical insurance when the city started going bankrupt.
In early 2010, Rodriguez decided to enlist in the Army so her husband would be able to spend time with their children and to get medical coverage for her son.
To get her ready for joining the military, Rodriguez's former noncommissioned officer husband helped her drop from 220 to 176 pounds over the course of 10 months so she would be able to meet Army enlistment requirements. She enlisted as a health care specialist in April 2011 and was stationed at Fort Carson in December 2011, where she continues to improve her fitness.
"I love the discipline and the Army organization as a whole," said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez graduated with honors from the Fort Carson Warrior Leader Course last month, sang the national anthem at her graduation and her essay, "Warrior Ethos goes beyond the battlefield," was published in the post newspaper Nov. 14.
"I think that all of the commitment and dedication it took to raise her children coupled with her professionalism created a rare Soldier," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jermaine Davison, command sergeant major, 4th BSB, 1st SBCT, 4th Infantry Division.
Rodriguez said she plans to pursue a career in Army counterintelligence and to enjoy every moment with her sons. Her youngest is 12, her son who was diagnosed with Sanfilippo syndrome is now 17 and her eldest is 18 and currently talking with military recruiters.
"She has a very deep and profound life story that has brought her to this point," said Sgt. Matthew O'Neil, health care specialist, Company C, 4th BSB, 1st SBCT, 4th Infantry Division, who worked with Rodriguez. "She's one of the things that is right about the Army."
For more information on Sanfilippo syndrome and to find out how you can make a difference, visit the National MPS Society website at mpssociety.org.