HARRIS COUNTY -- Dozens gathered at Ellington Airport Thursday to pay tribute to U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Joe Nunez-Rodriguez, 29, who was killed in Afghanistan in May.
Nunez-Rodriguez served a total of nine tours of duty overseas, twice Iraq and four times in Afghanistan. The nine deployment stripes he earned are the kind of distinction all four military branches salute.
“That’s inspiring for anyone because of his belief, because of his duty and self-service to the country,” Army Cpt. Jaime Soto said. Nunez-Rodriguez’s ex-wife was always going above and beyond the call of duty.
“He did amazing things. He just went beyond everything he was supposed to do,” Gabriella Garcia, Nunez-Rodriguez’s ex-wife, said.
She said it will be difficult to see he unit return from overseas without him.
“I still can’t believe it. I’m still trying to take it in… I… they were supposed to be coming back soon. It’s going to be harder seeing everyone come back without him,” Garcia said.
Garcia married Nunez-Rodriquez and they spoke every day. They remained best friends even after they divorced.
“We divorced, not because we didn’t love each other, but because we put our careers in front of us and that’s pretty much what he did. The military was his life,” Garcia said.
Nunez-Rodriquez enlisted in the Army in his teens and served 10 years, six in combat.
Though loved ones don’t know exactly how he died, they have an idea.
“He actually told me just in April that if anything happens, he wanted his soldiers to be saved before him,” Garcia said.
Such bravery is why he’s being buried a hero.