Sergeant First Class Kelly Rodriguez deployed more than five times in the course of her 21-year military career, serving as an Army Combat Medic in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and twice in Afghanistan. She loved her work, but it exposed her to some of the worst realities of war.
When she hit the 20-year mark, she knew it was time to submit her paperwork and retire.
Her oldest son, Antonio, had joined the Army, completed Basic Training, and was now an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne.
"It wasn't until he was at Bragg that it became real that he was going to deploy," Kelly said. "I just didn't see myself being able to serve in a combat zone with my son. I had friends that did that with their children or with their spouse, it's just tremendously hard."
"It's the first multi-generational conflict that we've had," she said, noting that the war in Afghanistan has lasted so long that some young soldiers serving today have no memory of a time their country was not at war.
Two weeks after her retirement ceremony, she and her husband attended her son's deployment ceremony.
"We watched our little boy get on the bus," she said. "I knew that was the right time for me to go, because I couldn't have done that in uniform, knowing where he was going."
He deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan, a region she knows firsthand. Antonio returned home last year, but Kelly expects he will face repeated deployments as the war stretches on.
"There's no forecasted end to the war in sight," she said. "It's the longest war we've ever had. If I deployed three times, I’m sure he's got at least one more."
Kelly Rodriguez shared the story of her most difficult deployment at a live storytelling event recorded at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville.
The Ft. Bragg Stories series is a collaboration between the Fayetteville Observer and WUNC's American Homefront Project to commemorate a century of history at Fort Bragg through personal narratives. You can hear other stories in the series here. If you'd like to share your Fort Bragg story, you can send it here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.