By OSD Staff Writer Jason Carter
Fernando Rodriguez is a retired, Puerto Rico born, Navy veteran who lives in Texas. Fernando joined the Navy when he was 17 years old. When asked why he chose the Navy over the other branches, Fernando says the decision was easy, “I walked into the recruiting office and the only door that was open was the Navy one. So I did my ASVAB test that afternoon, my physical that night, and the next day I had a rating.” In the Navy, Fernando started out as a corpsman, working alongside Marines. “I then left that,” Fernando says, “and became a special operations training group medic. I traveled around a lot with Marine sniper teams, STA (surveillance and target acquisition) platoons, did a couple of deployments here and there, then ended up going to EOD mobile unit 11.” Then, when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Fernando says he was “bounced around like a ping pong [ball]” as he spent the next “3 years, 3 months, and 3 days” away from home.
After 18 years of service, Fernando was granted an early retirement and moved to Austin, Texas, where he currently lives with his girlfriend. Living in Austin, Fernando eventually crossed paths with fellow Austin area resident, Glenn Banton, CEO and Executive Director of OSD, and learned about the work he was doing to help the Veteran community. Fernando says, “[At the time] I was a season ticket holder for the Austin Spurs, when Glenn and his OSD team sponsored a game. So I showed up, walked down, shook [Glenn’s] hand, and said, ‘Dude, this is pretty awesome what you guys are doing. I’d love to get involved.’” It was not long after that that Glenn asked Fernando to join the OSD team, and, as Fernando says, “It’s been history ever since.”
Fernando’s role and job title with OSD has changed a few times over the years, however today, Fernando serves as Chapter Leader for the entire Austin area. As chapter leader, Fernando’s primary responsibilities include executing OSD events and building OSD’s relationships within the community. This involves, Fernando says, “helping our OSD members get hooked up with different needs that they have, whether its professional development, psychological, social involvement, or whatever they need. I figure out a way to get them hooked back into the community or, not even back into, just get them into the community.”
When Fernando was asked if there has been a particular event or function with OSD that he was especially proud to have been part of, Fernando says, “There is not one specific event. I like everything that we do. I know that sounds cheesy and pretty cliche but everything we do, regardless if it’s one person showing up [to an event] or a thousand people. Just looking at the faces of the people who get to get out of their house and go do something that they wouldn’t normally be able to do…” OSD, for example, has a partnership with the Circuit of the Americas (COTA), a 3.4 mile motor racing facility and amphitheater located in Austin. COTA often provides OSD with tickets for their events, which OSD then gives to Veterans and their families, at no cost. Fernando says, “Every year we get tickets to Circuit of The Americas for the Formula 1 [Grand Prix] championships. The fact that they give us a couple hundred seats and I get to hand them to folks who would never be able to afford to go to this thing, never mind go two or three days in a row… just the smile they have on their face when you hand them that… For me, it’s about helping people experience experiences, regardless of how big or how small.”
As far as Fernando’s future aspirations for OSD and how he would like to see them grow, he says, “I want to see OSD grow to become that huge one percent-er, that hundred million dollar [Veteran] nonprofit that has programs that we can launch and go with, and not have to worry about the shuffling that we have to do now, [where it’s like] ‘I have this budget’ or ‘we can only do this or that, [but not both].’ I can’t wait for OSD to get the funding that they need [to be able to] launch this program and this program at the same time, [and not] have to wait for one to help another one.”
In his free time, Fernando likes participating in physical activities, such as running and rucking. This year, on the anniversary of September 11th, Fernando took part in a memorial climb at the 750 foot tall Tower of the Americas, in San Antonio. As a way to pay tribute to the firefighters and first responders who lost their lives that day, Fernando wore “a weighted vest, full body armor kit with plates, helmet, and boots” to climb the 75 floors and 952 steps up to the top of the tower and down again. Fernando also regularly hosts an OSD running group around the Austin area, for Veterans who love to run and want to build community with other Veteran runners.