June 7, 2013 Updated: June 7, 2013 at 9:20 am
A Fort Carson truck driver was recalled as a "soldier of legend" with a heart as big as Texas at a memorial service Thursday on post.
Staff Sgt. Joe Abraham Nunez Rodriguez, 29, of Pasadena, Texas, died May 30 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb.
He was a member of the 43rd Sustainment Brigade of the 4th Infantry Division.
"They say everything is bigger in Texas. Joe was the embodiment of that," 1st Lt. Natalie Lopez-Barnard said during the service. "He had a heart as big as the state."
Nunez Rodriguez was a friend to all and was known for "breaking the ice so soldiers could work better together," she said.
Sgt. Gabriella Garcia, the fallen truck driver's ex-wife, remembered Nunez Rodriguez as mentally agile and quick on his toes.
On one occasion, Nunez Rodriguez was given only three days' warning before being sent to the promotion board.
Despite naysayers, he passed with a near-perfect score, Garcia recalled.
During his second deployment, he unlocked the tires of a trailer shortly after it was hit by a roadside bomb, exposing himself to further danger, she added.
"He didn't wait to be told what to do," she said. "In a firefight, he'd rather have his soldiers saved by the medic than himself."
After she finished her eulogy, Garcia returned to her seat and quietly sobbed, her head bobbing up and down as tears streamed down her face.
When a soldier called Nunez Rodriguez's name during a final roll call, the only response were sighs and weeping.
After the ceremony, Sgt. Katherine Griego, a friend of Nunez Rodriguez, recalled her battle buddy as an energetic and inspiring co-worker who bragged about his salsa-dancing skills.
"Every time he saw a soldier who was down, he brought their spirits up," Griego said. "He was always ready for a mission and excited to go out."
She recalled a time when he consoled her shortly after a roadside bomb injured the brigade's Sgt. Mark H. Schoonhoven in December.
In January, Schoonhoven died at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas of injuries from the blast.
Nunez Rodriguez "saw I was down," Griego said. "He was like, 'We still have to keep going. We're going to make it. There's always hope. We have to keep pushing on.'?"
He was an eternal optimist, she recalled as a smile crept over her lips.
"He'd always pat my back and say 'see you later' right before a mission," she said. "When he shined, you shined right next to him."
During Nunez Rodriguez's nearly 11 years in the Army, he deployed four times to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan.
His awards include the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Action Badge.
He is survived by his mother, Candelaria Nunez.