Welcome home: U.S. Army National Guard soldier returns from Fort Leonard Wood

Photo by Krista Allen/Lake Powell Chronicle
Army Pfc. Drake Rodgers poses for a photo with his cousin, Danelle Kirk, outside the Townhouse at John C. Page Memorial Park in Page, Ariz. Rodgers was escorted home to Page-Lake Powell by the Riders for Warriors.

PAGE – When he returned home, Army Pfc. Drake Rodgers ate fried potatoes with Spam and frybread – the food of champi­ons in Navajo land.

The next day, he celebrated Mother’s Day with neeshjízhii (dried, steamed corn), mutton, and frybread.

Rodgers, Diné, returned home to Page-Lake Powell on Sat­urday afternoon after spending four months, seven weeks at basic combat training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Rodgers on May 5 graduated with Class 21T from the Charlie Company 58th Transportation Battalion.

Drake Rodgers is the grandson of Stanley Rodgers, who raised him. Drake is Tódík’ózhí (Saltwater Clan) and born for Tooh Dine’é (Bilagáanaa or white). His maternal grandfather is Mą’íí Deeshgíízhíníí (Coyote Pass), and his paternal grandfa­ther is Tooh Dine’é.

“I started (basic combat training) Dec. 28, 2020. I left Page, and I went to Fort Leonard Wood,” Drake said. “I was there until (May 5).”

After graduation, Drake flew home from St. Louis, stopping in Denver and in Flagstaff, before returning home within the four sacred mountains of the Diné.

“Then along the way, Riders for Warriors (a motorcycle group), they escorted me home from Flagstaff to Page,” Drake said. “It was a surprise welcome home for me along the way.”

The motorcycle riders escorted Drake to the Townhouse at the John C. Page Memorial Park, where his grandfather, family, and his friends waited to surprise him with a welcome-home luncheon.

“It was crazy because I didn’t know anything about it,” Drake said. “It was a total surprise for me. They (family and friends) kept it hidden from me. To see the look on their faces–– and to have the whole family there was just amazing.”

Drake said being away from home for more than 128 days helped him realize the value of family and where he calls home.

“Being away for that long and being by yourself, not know­ing anybody out there, it takes a toll on you and makes you realize what you have at home and who is there for you at home,” Drake said. “And it was awesome to have them welcome me home.”

Fort Leonard Wood isn’t like Page-Lake Powell at all, said Drake. There are primar­ily trees and hills in contrast to the lake, rocks, and the cliffs he’s used to seeing.

“Coming home and seeing––popping over the hill, I didn’t see the power plant. It’s no longer there,” Drake said, adding that he saw the smokestacks fall at the Navajo Generating Station before he left for BCT. “Seeing the red rocks, the cliffs, and the lake are what made it hit: I’m home. This is home.”

Home in Page

Drake grew up here alongside his grandfather, who worked for NGS and the defunct Peabody Western Coal Company for nearly 28 years. Drake’s grandfather Stanley, who retired, also served as a Navajo Police officer and an Arizona State Trooper for the Ari­zona Department of Public Safety.

“My uncles and my grandfather helped build the power plant,” Drake explained. “Growing up, that’s how we made a living. That’s where (our family’s) income came from.”

And it’s great to be home with his grandfather and to be among family, said Drake.

“I’m a family person. I’m always with my grandfather. He’s my right-hand man. I’m always with him,” Drake added. “Wherever he (grandfather) goes, I’m there right along with him and vice versa. Home with him and my little cousins and my fiancé, it feels good.”

Camp Navajo

Drake will station at Camp Navajo in Bellemont, Arizona, where he will train as an 88M motor transport operator, the “backbone” of the Army National Guard’s support and sustainment structure. They also provide ad­vanced mobility on and off the battlefield.

Drake said he’ll be in Bellemont for drill two days a month with two weeks of annual training for six years.

In the meantime, Drake’s planning to work for Page Fast Glass. He’s also planning to go on training to be­come a journeyman lineman this fall.

Drake said his grandfather’s service in the Army influ­enced him to serve too.

“Just him raising me and me wanting to fall into his footsteps, and coming from a military family, I thought it’d be best for me to (join) the military and carry on the family tradition and serve my country, serve the Navajo Nation, serve our community of Page, and serve my fam­ily,” Drake added. “I just want to thank my family for being there for me, my grandpa for guiding me and being a mentor in my life to get me to where I’m at today.

“And just everybody being there for me: the commu­nity, my friends and family.”

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