JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., —
“It was easy to hide the abuse, I just blamed it on all the sports I played.”
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Tanya Lee Rose Rodriguez, 87th Security Forces Squadron K-9 handler grew up in Ventura County, California, in a seemingly normal home. However, Rodriguez experienced an upbringing that no child should; she was abused.
Growing up with only one of her eight siblings, Rodriguez was faced with the challenge of being raised by her parents who were meth addicts. Her father would regularly bring drugs into the home and her stepmother continuously came home drunk. Because of the constant instability, Rodriguez was forced to take on the role of caring for her brother when he was born; she was only four years old.
“I grew up in a broken home, it was very emotionally, physically and mentally abusive,” said Rodriguez. “I was more of a mom to my younger brother than his mom. My father would go to jail for a while and then come back. My stepmom would go to a mental hospital for a few weeks then come back. It was a normal cycle of neglect.”
Abuse in the home ranged from physical beatings to death threats. Rodriguez remembers a specific situation where her younger brother was beaten with a wooden stick by her stepmom. When trying to protect her brother, she was attacked. She was taken to the ground, her stepmom on top of her, and was struck repeatedly. Rodriguez pulled her brother out of the house the first moment she could and had him stay at a friend’s house.
“That night I was begging and pleading with my dad about how someone is going to have to die for something to change,” said Rodriguez. “It was just getting worse and worse. Then, my stepmom storms in, looks at me and says, ‘I don’t care if I go to prison, I’m going to beat the living shit out of you!’ I paused, looked at my father and said, ‘if she lays one hand on me I’m walking out that door and you will never see me again, and I’m taking my brother with me.’”
Rodriguez spoke about how often she wanted to tell somebody, like her aunt, about the abuse that was going on in her home.
“I remember it so vividly -- hiding on the side of my house calling her and crying,” said Rodriguez. “[My aunt] didn’t know at the time how bad it was and thought I was just being dramatic because I was a teenager. That is one of her biggest regrets.”
One week before her 16th birthday, her stepmom was drunk on the couch when Rodriguez’s younger brother came home from school. She told him to go get a lighter for her cigarette and he responded, “No, I’m not going to fuel your habit.”
She reacted with rage and beat him. He ran out to the front yard where the neighbors saw her kick him to the ground. They called the police. When Rodriguez got home, the police took her and her brother away that night. They could only pack one bag, everything else was left behind.
“When I thought of foster homes, I thought of those kids in the movie Angels in the Outfield,” said Rodriguez. “That was the scariest thing for me because they were talking about splitting my brother and I up. I was scared of the unknown and that I might not be able to protect him.”
They were sent together to a foster home in Calabasas, California. During the California fires of 2019, approximately 11,000 homes were burned down. Among those homes was the foster home that held both Rodriguez and her brother.
“Everything except for a cross burned down,” said Rodriguez. “There was this poem that used to be on the wall in my foster home, “Footprints in the Sand.” My grandma used to read it to me when I was a lot younger.”
The poem speaks about the life of a person who walked with the Lord. In the last scene of this person’s life, they looked back and saw only one set of footprints during hard times. Questioning the Lord, He responded with “My precious, precious child, I love you and I would never, never leave you during your times of trial and suffering. When you saw only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.” When Rodriguez arrived at the foster home that first night, she saw that poem.
“And so, within that moment, I knew that all of the heartache and all of the fear and pain that I had endured my entire life up until that point, though I felt like I was alone then, I wasn’t,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez used her past to create her present. She joined the U.S. Air Force after high school and became a K-9 handler. She met her now husband of almost three years in the military where they are K-9 handlers together in the same unit at Joint Base MDL.
“I really want to become a foster parent and a behavioral therapist for foster kids at some point in my life,” said Rodriguez. “Just as my way of giving back.”
She calls herself a survivor. Resiliency is defined as the ability to recover from difficulties. Rodriguez found through her time in the Air Force that she had always been resilient.
“The Air Force has given me a lot of insight into my own upbringing,” said Rodriguez. “We have resiliency days and I’ve talked about resiliency throughout my career, nearly seven years now. I’ve always known what resiliency was, I just didn’t have a word for it. The military has taught me how strong my adversities have made me.”
She continues, knowing that in hard times she will bounce back because in those times, she turns to God and remembers --
“It was then that I carried you.”