Sentinel Stories


“Through Sentinels of Freedom, I was able to study more and stay more focused without worrying about how I’m going to get through the months financially. With that said, I am truly grateful to be accepted and striving at making huge changes in my life. Thank you, SOF, for the opportunity and the support.”

— Marlene Rodriguez

Marlene Rodriguez

Staff Sergeant, US Army
Recreational Administration

Marlene completed three combat duty deployments to Iraq as a heavy wheeled vehicle operator. During her first deployment, the vehicle Marlene was driving took a direct hit from an improvised explosive device (IED). She was knocked unconscious and received a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Marlene’s passenger died and she struggles with survivor’s guilt. On her third deployment to Iraq, Marlene vehicle again took a direct hit by an IED. She was left with shrapnel wounds and suffered another TBI, which left her with a severe seizure disorder. Marlene spent over two years in the hospital recovering from her injuries and trying to get her seizures under control. The seizure disorder has been very challenging for her, but she has learned that staying active and sticking to a healthy diet help. That’s the idea that ignited Marlene’s passion for helping other veterans through recreation.

Sentinels of Freedom (SOF) assisted Marlene while she faced the hardships of her transition, providing financial and personal support and mentoring. Marlene had trouble in the classroom with memorization, but she learned to utilize all her resources to get the job done.

Marlene also kept new goals in sight. She completed her associate’s degree from Northwest Vista College and is now working towards a bachelor’s degree in recreational administration at Texas State University. After completing her degree, Marlene plans to create an organization focused on recreational therapy to assist veterans. SOF also assisted Marlene with camping and hiking gear required for that program.

Throughout her journey, Marlene continues to be involved in her community and volunteers with Heroes Baseball and Camp Capers.

Marlene is one of only 500 women who have been awarded the Purple Heart, and she is the first woman to join the Military Order of the Purple Heart. She also plans to become the first female Purple Heart recipient to climb Mt. Everest.

Sentinels Across America

Across our great nation, our Sentinels are building new lives for themselves and their families.