ZUTENDAAL, Belgium - Bundled up against the cold and biting winter wind of Belgium, a U.S. Army private first class prepares a massive military vehicle for transport. He climbs up into the driver's seat, his glasses-clad eyes the only thing visible between his fleece cap and neck gaiter, and starts the vehicle, ready to complete his tasks for that day.
U.S. Army Pfc. Stephen Rodriguez, a petroleum supply specialist with 504th Composite Supply Company, 553rd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division Sustainment Brigade, is one of thousands of Soldiers participating in DEFENDER-Europe 20, a deployment of a division-sized force from the U.S. to Europe to draw and move equipment and personnel across the European theater to participate in linked exercises. While all of these Soldiers have different motivations for joining the military, Rodriguez's are strictly his own.
Rodriguez is following the path his grandfather created when he was in the military. The retired sergeant major imparted on Rodriguez wisdom that inspired him to join.
"He always tried to push me towards joining because of the way he is living after the military," Rodriguez said. "My wife and daughter pushed me even more towards the military because it would set us up for our future."
Rodriguez learned from his grandfather's past to help prepare himself and his family for the future. Raised in Guam, he felt that joining the military and moving to the U.S. would give his family a better life.
"We had my daughter in 2018 and we wanted to get off the island because it's pretty small, there isn't much to do and the cost of living was pretty high," he said. "We decided that I would join the Army and hopefully find a house in the states."
Rodriguez has big boots to fill following his grandfather's legacy, but rather than feel intimidated by the challenge, he rises to the occasion.
"It makes me feel proud of what he did because I know the Army was different when he was in; I feel like I'm walking in his footsteps," he said. "He was proud that I was joining the military service. He couldn't believe it, he said, 'do great things, don't be afraid to get out there and get after it.'"
His leadership noticed that Rodriguez carries himself differently from other Soldiers in his unit.
"He is one of my most [professional] Soldiers that we have, we have him playing key roles out here, which is why he is one of our drivers. He is a great asset to us," said Rodrguez's platoon sergeant, U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Armando Palacios, a petroleum supply specialist with the 504th CSC.
According to Palacios, Rodriguez's appearance and performance stood out, he is one of the most respectful Soldiers that they have and is eager to know more. Rodriguez is a type of person that isn't comfortable where he is at and wants to continue to grow and achieve, said Palacios.
Not only is Rodriguez eager to learn from the mission in Europe, he also takes pride in being one of the only Guamanians in his unit.
"I was really excited for it, since it's my first mission since this is my first one in Europe. I am one of the only [islanders] here so I set a path way for the next generation and the unit that comes after us," he said.
Rodriguez is participating in DEFENDER-Europe 20, one of the largest deployment of troops from the U.S. to Europe in 25 years. His unit came here to draw Army Prepositioned Stock 2 (APS-2) that consisted of vehicles, such as the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks that Rodriguez drives, weapons and ground-support equipment such as forklifts. This was the first time since the base reopened in 2017 that APS-2 has been drawn from this site.
The CSC will convoy across Europe to set up a fuel point to support the U.S. military and its allies and partners participating in DEFENDER-Europe 20. Their actions will help maintain the U.S. military's combat capabilities as they participate in various annual exercises.
"With this being my company and Zutendaal's first APS mission, I feel honored to be a part of it and confident in what I am doing as a part of this mission," said Rodriguez.