Honoring our Heroes – Roberto Gonzales

Roberto Gonzales, US Army (ret.)

Roberto Gonzales, US Army (retired),
United States Army (1987-2011)

What inspired you to serve?

It was almost a necessity.  I basically had to serve as the only real option to have a secure future.  I had no family or financial support that I could depend on to assist with higher level education beyond high school. Being from southern California most folks would join the Marines or Navy, few would join the Army as I did. But, the funny thing about that is I set my mind on joining the Navy, following my cousin who enlisted a couple of weeks before I did.  He took me to see his recruiter.  As we went to open the door, it was locked with a note “at lunch will return in 30 Minutes”.  Right next door was the Army recruiting office and the rest is history as you say.  I joined the US Army as a 91A Medical Specialist. That day was 19 September 1987.

I left for Basic Training in Fort Knox Kentucky on 27 September 1987. I had just turned 18 (in July) and had never really been outside of California so I knew absolutely nothing about other cultures.When I reported to Basic – it was severe shock to the system.  Drill Sergeants were yelling and screaming but I figured I would keep my mouth shut and listen to everything they had to say.  I knew they had a job to do.  So, l listened and did as they said which has served me well in my life and I learned there were people from all walks of life in the service.  I met my first friend who was from Puerto Ricanin Basic.  I had no idea there was even a place! Other guys were from the East coast, Boston and New York, and thought when their accents and words they said were funny. As they did, mine.

I left for Basic Training in Fort Knox Kentucky on 27 September 1987. I had just turned 18 (in July) and had never really been outside of California so I knew absolutely nothing about other cultures.When I reported to Basic – it was severe shock to the system.  Drill Sergeants were yelling and screaming but I figured I would keep my mouth shut and listen to everything they had to say.  I knew they had a job to do.  So, l listened and did as they said which has served me well in my life and I learned there were people from all walks of life in the service.  I met my first friend who was from Puerto Ricanin Basic.  I had no idea there was even a place! Other guys were from the East coast, Boston and New York, and thought when their accents and words they said were funny. As they did, mine.


What places did you visit while serving ?

My first duty station was Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland at a very small Health Clinic, which I believe was a mistake.  The assigned duty was easy as there was little military discipline and I was in for a HUGE eye opener when I PCS’d to Hawaii (2 years later) to serve in the 25th Infantry Division.  The Infantry world is nothing but total military discipline and physical fitness -which I loved. I must say the time I spent in Hawaii was probably some of the best years of my life because of the friendships, beautiful beaches, clubs and alcohol, lol. I served in Hawaii until 1994 and PCS’d to Fort Hood Texas where I served with 2/7 Mechanized Infantry Battalion 1st ID.  I must say this tour was so-so; I made some valuable friends but the tour and location itself was “meh” I was only there for a brief 2 years.  

Then it was on to Germany, in 1997, with the 1st ID which include a 8-month stint in Bosnia as part of a peace keeping force.  That was the first time I had seen with my own eyes the horror of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.After Germany I went on to Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio Texas,for a little less stress but seriously long hours as an instructor teaching Advance Individual Training to new Combat Medics.  By that time my MOS had changed from to 91A to 91B, then finally to 68W.  But I was always a “Combat Medic”.


Where did you meet your wife?

I met my beautiful wife while stationed at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.  She was also active duty and we have been inseparable ever since.  Even if we weren’t physically together because uncle Sam wanted us apart for one reason or another.

In 2004 we PCS’d to Fort Lewis back to the great world of the Infantry! We went to 1st Brigade Stryker 25th ID.  I went to the same exact medical company that I was assigned to as Corporal from 1990-1994 but I was now an SFC. The entire Brigade had moved to Fort Lewis sometime in the late 90s and became one the first (actually second) Stryker Brigades. To me I felt like I went full circle – I was a Treatment Platoon Sergeant and had several dozens of soldiers to look after which is always a full time job in its self.

Summer or 2004, we deployed to Iraq as part of operation Iraqi Freedom.  This is where the rubber meets the road and where all your years or training is tested…and it was! It is a unique experience to be deployed to a combat zone especially when you are alone but think about how hard it is to be with your spouse, which I was (my wife was in my same Battalion in another company).  We opted to deploy together so we wouldn’t have to do the proverbial high five at the door when dual military couples don’t deploy together but deploy separately and spend years apart. Well as I said, we opted to go together which at the time was a great idea.  But, it’s not always great knowing that your wife is in harm’s way at all times especially when you know firsthand of the dangers that she’s in, while being a Combat Medic.  Don’t let people say that women don’t go into combat environments – THEY DO – and the enemy is not any less likely to hurt a women.  They want to show Americans what they are capable of and to instill fear. People often ask me what it’s like to deploy with your spouse and how great it must have been and what I tell them is this – it takes a lot of love and sacrifice to do it.  Just imagine running for cover with your wife as motors and rockets rain down around you or when fate steps in to save you from a suicide bomber as it did for us on FOB Marez (Mosul DFAC bombing 22 December 2004, RIP to all lost that day).  I’m not sure about you, but it’s not something a lot of married American couples will ever experience. We eventually made it back safe after 12 months and we were off to our next great adventure.

In 2006, the entire Brigade reflagged and was now the 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment and big Army decided they wanted to move the entire regiment to Germany, oh what fun times that was lol.  We moved to Vilseck Germany (I was stationed in the exact same place 97-2000).  Life in Germany was great.  We traveled and went sightseeing until new deployment orders hit our Regiment and were became part of “the surge”.  In 2007, (18 months between deployments), we were off to Iraq again, both of us together for 15 very long months.  This time I was in Regimental Operations and my wife was the Treatment Platoon Sergeant for the Medical Company. This deployment was just like the last one, full of death and destruction and things you can’t possibly describe unless “you’ve been there”.  For us, what makes it bearable is our ability to discuss what we’ve seen and experienced with each other since we have both experienced a lot of the same things.

In 2009, the Army decided to send us both to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and I served another unremarkable 2 years in the Hospital in operations.  In 2011, I decided it was time to hang up the ol’ spurs (gold of course, cavalry folks will get it), plus the Army wasn’t going to promote me so I kinda had to retire at 24 years of service.  When people say time fly’s, it sure does.  24 years flew by with the good times, bad times, tough times, loves lost, friendships made and friends taken to soon either by the enemy or themselves, (RIP 5661).Please remember that every day, 22 Veterans take their own lives.  It was a life that I don’t regret and would do all over again.  Despite all of that, the Army made me a better man and without it, I really can’t imagine where my path would have led (probably not a good place).


What about post-retirement?

Life after the Army has been great. I now work for the Department of the Army and still “give back” when I can.  I am currently serving the patients and staff of Brooke Army Medical Center located in San Antonio, Texas, and I’m now going on 32 years of federal service; (which include 24 years of active duty) and life is spectacular! I’m looking forward to my wife retiring this summer (special shout out to her for attaining her dream of becoming a Registered Nurse and becoming an Officer in the Army during our time in Oklahoma), and hopefully on to awesome travel adventures.  We’ll see what happens as we are both homebodies who just love lounging around with our 4 fur babies.

I appreciate the opportunity to write my story and I hope in some way we made an impact and made others reflect on something or remember a time or person from when they served. Take Care, God Bless and always remember “Medics Out Front”.


Thank you to Roberto Gonzales, US Army (retired), for sharing his story and to all veterans who have served this country, past and present.

If you would like to see a veteran you love featured on our blog, please reach out to sbaker@amchealth.com.