The love story of Portage residents Rob and Laurie Rodriguez began with a war. As high school seniors, they recall seeing TV images of the Persian Gulf War and, like others of their generation, felt compelled to act. “The military was a family tradition for both of us,” Rob explains. “My dad and brother were both in the Army. Laurie’s dad was a Marine, and her sister was in the Navy.”
The availability of particular opportunities guided both of them in choosing their respective military branches. Rob, in a choice that honorably upended his family’s military tradition, joined the Marines in 1991, while Laurie, following her sister’s example, joined the Navy in 1992. Their different choices brought them to the same location, the U.S. Army Intelligence School in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, a joint military school. Rob and Laurie met in the signals intelligence advanced course that they were both enrolled in. “We started out as friends,” Rob says. “We were in the same classes at Fort Devens and, again, at our follow-on school in Pensacola, Florida. We had classes at night, and everyone in our class would go out to eat together and hang out at the beach.”
As with so many of the best love stories, their friendship blossomed into romance. Yet because they believed that their lives were headed in different directions—Laurie received orders to go to Hawaii while Rob had already requested orders to go to Europe—they decided to forgo long-distance dating and broke things off. However, in a happy twist of fate, on the day Laurie was to leave Florida, Rob received orders to report to Hawaii, too. He says, “I called her and we were both so happy about it. She picked me up at the airport in Hawaii.”
Laurie was stationed at the U.S. Naval Security Group Kunia, where she provided intelligence support for ships deploying out of Pearl Harbor; Rob was stationed at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay. Though they were both in Oahu, they only saw each other on the weekends for the first two years. Every Friday night, Rob took a two-hour bus ride to see Laurie. “When the weekend came, I couldn’t wait to see him,” Laurie recalls. “There weren’t any cell phones back then, so we couldn’t talk or text, though Rob would use pay phones to call me every now and then.”
Rob and Laurie were married in 1994. Their wedding was held in Arizona so that both sets of parents could attend (Laurie’s parents lived in Arizona, and Rob’s parents drove in from Portage, Indiana, for the wedding). Laurie’s father, a preacher, officiated at the wedding ceremony, which was held in his church. “It was a small wedding and we didn’t know anyone but our parents, though we’ve been married for 22 years so I think it worked out just fine,” Rob says.
Though they were committed to each other in marriage, they remained committed to their country, too, and after one month of marriage, Rob was deployed to a ship in the West Pacific. “I came home for almost a month and then left again for three more months,” he says. After his West Pacific tour, Rob was sent to Mogadishu, Somalia. Laurie served as a cryptologist for four years before she left the Navy. As one who knows the trials of being apart, Rob admits, “Being separated can strain your marriage.” Laurie agrees, and adds that, for anyone either serving in the military or who is married to someone serving in the military, “You have to be prepared for the possibility of being separated for years at a time. Are you strong enough to handle that separation? Is your marriage strong enough?”
Happily, the Rodriguezes’ marriage survived and thrived. They left Hawaii in 1997 for Arizona, where Rob served as an Army Intelligence Advanced Course instructor for three years until he left the Marines. After Arizona, they moved to Northwest Indiana and remained to raise their three sons, Robert, age 19; Isaac, age 17; and Alex, age 12.
Though their careers and lives today are centered in the civilian world—Rob is a cyber security manager at NiSource and Laurie is the librarian at Aylesworth Elementary School in Portage—the roots they established in the military continue to shape their lives. Laurie says, “I’m grateful for my time in the service. I’ve met people from all walks of life, including my best friend from my Navy days. We’re going to her daughter’s wedding.” Rob also values the lasting friendships made while serving in the military, and says, “Going to different places, such as Africa, has shaped my world view. It makes me grateful for what we have in the United States of America.”