Boko Haram Becomes Gen. David Rodriguez's Next Mission: Bring Back The Girls

U.S. Army Lt. General David Rodriguez on December 8, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

U.S. Army Lt. General David Rodriguez on December 8, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.  (2009 Getty Images)

He’s not a household name.

But in the military world, the Pennsylvania native has been a star for decades.

General David M. Rodriguez, a 1976 West Point graduate, oversaw the surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2009. He had leadership roles in the Gulf War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, as well. Among his numerous honors are the Defense Distinguished Medal, Bronze Star Medal, and Distinguished Service Medal.

Now, Rodriguez, who towers at 6-foot-5, is one of the central figures in the U.S. effort to assist the Nigerian government in the search for and rescue of the kidnapped schoolgirls.

Rodriguez, who is head of the U.S. Africa Command, arrived earlier this week in Nigeria – a trip that actually had been planned before the abduction of nearly 300 girls on April 15 by the Boko Haram militant group. Boko Haram is demanding that its jailed members be swapped for the girls’ freedom.

The abduction has spurred a global movement to secure the girls' release amid fears they would be sold into slavery, married off to fighters, or worse, following a series of threats by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau.

On Tuesday, Rodriguez was in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, meeting with officials at the U.S. Embassy, according to the defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

The Nigerian military said in a statement that Rodriguez visited Nigeria's defense headquarters to discuss U.S. support for Nigeria's campaign against the Boko Haram militants, who have killed more than 1,500 people this year in a campaign of bombings, massacres and kidnappings.

Those who know him describe Rodriguez as “low-key” and “humble.”

He had a pivotal role in the Afghan surge five years ago – though friends said he never touted his part in the mission.

“He’ll never tell you that this whole thing was his baby,” a 2011 Newsweek story about him quoted his top aide at the time, Col. Kimberly Field, as saying. “But it was.”

Rodriguez, known as just “General Rod” by his officers, was only too happy, his officers told Newsweek, to let his then-boss, Gen. David Petraeus, get all the attention.

“You never hear of General Rod as long as General Petraeus is within a hundred miles,” said one of Rodriguez’s staff officers to Newsweek. “But he could care less.”

If he prefers to remain behind the scenes, he also believes more people should stay out of the spotlight.

“I tell everybody, ‘If we used our two ears and one mouth in the same ratio we had them, we would be better off,’ ” he told Newsweek.

Rodriguez had military life in his pedigree.

He grew up in a community, West Chester, Pennsylvania, where every family either had someone in the military or knew someone who served.

"We all knew someone who served in the armed forces," Rodriguez said in an interview with GoArmySports.com. "Schools like nearby West Chester University offer Army ROTC. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 106 has been operating there since 1899 and hosts a picnic on Memorial Day to honor the fallen. My father was in the Army and part of the occupation army of Japan."

Unsurprisingly, two of his four children are in the military and, like their dad, graduated from West Point.

Of his son, Andrew, who has become a respected U.S. military member in his own right, Rodriguez said: "He has grown up around the Army with assignments at Fort Bragg, the Pentagon and military bases around the world.”

"He also knew about family separations. He was only three months old when I was deployed to Operation Desert Storm in 1990, and was 13 when I went back there in 2003,” he said.

“Growing up, he'd go to work with me sometimes as well as visiting injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He knew about the values, the personal dedication and sacrifice it takes to pursue a career in our armed forces."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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