On Friday night, former classmates, friends, family and strangers came to Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church to pay their last respects to the 20-year-old soldier, who died April 23 in a double suicide bombing in As Sadah, Iraq, while serving with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Eight other soldiers from the 82nd died in the attack, which Army officials called one of the worst since the war began in 2003.
"He'll never fight again," said the Rev. Tony Crisp, senior pastor of the church, which Rodriguez attended as a boy. "Now he's in the presence of the Prince of Peace. Michael Rodriguez is home."
"He was a model cadet," said Cmdr. David Hillier, who taught Rodriguez in the school's Naval JROTC class. "He had a hunger to learn. I always had a feeling Michael would succeed in anything he did. But I couldn't talk him into joining the Navy. I guess the Army was just in his blood."
Members of Central's JROTC drill team ran through their paces Friday night in Rodriguez's memory. The school also named its JROTC drill hall in Rodriguez's memory.
"He was very proud of what he was doing over there," his father, George Rodriguez, said. "He was always asking us to send him candy for the kids. He was a warrior with a heart."