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Air Force Veteran Honored Posthumously at Medical Research Symposium

Image of Steven Rodriquez (left), and wife, Christine Rodriquez (center), accept a posthumous award for Dario Rodriguez from Seileen Mullen, the acting Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. . U. S. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (Ret.) Dario Rodriquez was awarded the Distinguished Service Award posthumously at the Military Health System Research Symposium in Orlando, Florida, on, Sept. 12. His son, Steven Rodriquez (left), and wife, Christine Rodriquez (center), accept the award from Seileen Mullen, the acting Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.

Dario Rodriquez, Jr. dedicated his career to developing technologies to care for injured service members and training first responders to use those same technologies. The impact of his contributions to military health and medicine are enduring. Rodriquez, who retired from the U.S. Air Force as a chief master sergeant, demonstrated a lifelong commitment to advancing care for warfighters through his research into lifesaving interventions for combat casualties, his work on clinical trials, and his commitment to training. Last August, he was posthumously recognized with a Distinguished Service Award during the 2022 Military Health System Research Symposium. Rodriquez lost a long battle with cancer in March 2022.

"The late Mr. Dario Rodriquez understood the complexities and difficulties in the military medical continuum that require change and flexibility. He dedicated his life to ensure better warfighter care during military air evacuation," said U.S. Army Col. Jennifer Stowe, a science program administrator at the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, who presented the award for his work to increase the effectiveness of en route combat casualty care.

The Distinguished Service Award is a lifetime achievement award and recognizes contributions that have advanced the professional growth of MHS research and demonstrates outstanding leadership in the pursuit of excellence for country and service.

Dedicating A Life to Research

Rodriquez started his career with the U.S. Air Force as a respiratory therapist, moving up to be a career field manager for respiratory care practitioners. Throughout his career, he dedicated his work to developing and providing training for those caring for wounded warfighters.

As en route care product area lead at the Air Force Research Laboratory's 711th Human Performance Wing, Rodriquez focused on the advancement of warfighter medical care, representing the 711HPW on various committees and working groups including the Committee on En Route Combat Casualty Care.

Rodriquez spearheaded training for the Critical Care Air Transport Team, an in-flight, intensive care team that cares for injured service members as they are transported from the point of injury to next higher level of care.

While at the Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, he led the advancement and performance of several research initiatives in en route care, aeromedical evacuation, and CCAT research.

After spending 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, Rodriquez continued training and aiding in military medicine research at the University of Cincinnati as the research director of the En route Care Center.

Colleagues shared how devoted he was to his work, noting "his integrity and his desire to provide the best care, and he wouldn't accept anything less than that," said Richard Branson, a professor in the department of surgery for the University of Cincinnati.

Throughout his time in the research field, he continued to expand his knowledge while sharing and mentoring countless others. "He was proud of those he worked with, wanting to ensure that they were getting the best training, advice, and career growth," said James Lehman, the medical research program manager for the University of Cincinnati.

Rodriquez's career was also defined by his work on clinical protocols and numerous training programs. For example, he led a clinical trial for a closed-loop control for mechanical ventilation, briefing high-ranking officials about potential lifesaving interventions for combat casualties.

Many of his research efforts have aided the Department of Defense with knowledge, technology, and solutions while opening doors to future research ventures. His philosophy regarding medical research was "no knowledge left unturned, and no technology left unchallenged," Lehman shared. He was a lifelong learner while also sharing his vast knowledge with students and mentees.

His expertise was sought after by government and DOD agencies, including the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

"The research he did has already impacted how patients are cared for, eliminating things that were not helpful or potentially dangerous. [He] focused on people doing evidence-based medicine to improve outcomes and working diligently to move the military toward systems that would automatically help care for patients when there were not enough caregivers available," Branson stated.

A Family Man with a Lasting Legacy

Each person who shared memories of Rodriquez remembered the passion he held for his family and friends.

His wife, Christina Rodriquez, described his humbleness. "He would come home and say, 'I got an award today,' and the funny thing was, I never knew he was up for anything. He was just like that, humble and passionate about his job."

He had an infectious sense of humor, and he always found a way to lighten the mood, even when he was undergoing cancer treatments. He maintained a bright, positive outlook.

"It did not matter what happened at work. When he was home, he was home," shared his son, Steven Rodriquez. "He wanted to know about our day. He was the sort of person that could motivate you without effort."  Christina and Steven accepted the posthumous award on behalf of Rodriquez at MHSRS on Sept. 12.

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