AL ASAD, Iraq -- To many Marines, military service is a job or stepping stone to greater things. It gives them the opportunity to say they served their country and did their part for the Global War on Terrorism.
A few units throughout the Corps have felt the burden of war more than others. The leathernecks of Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 2 have answered the call time and time again.
With the need for reconnaissance aircraft in theater, the two existing UAV squadrons have been rotating in and out of Iraq since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The Night Owls are chock-full of Marines who love the Corps and have devoted their lives to it. Marines like Staff Sgt. Jose Gonzalez, the staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the ScanEagle detachment here. He has stepped up to the plate every time.
The 1990 graduate of Miami Springs Senior High School in Miami Springs, Fla., originally enlisted in the Air Force in 1991. After a short enlistment and meeting his wife, Heather, who stayed in the active ranks of the Air Force until 1997, Gonzalez concentrated on building his family.
In 1999, after the birth of his two daughters, Victoria and Taira, at the age of 27, Gonzalez enlisted in the Marine Corps to become an unmanned aerial vehicle operator.
“I decided I wanted more of a challenge,” the resident of North Bergen, N.J., said. “From the start I wanted to be the Marine I would be proud to look up to, so I hit the ground running, being the series honor man in boot camp and later becoming a martial arts instructor trainer in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program.”
All of the success Gonzalez has achieved can be attributed to the quality leadership he has been blessed with since he entered the Corps.
“I hope my success is a tribute to all the great leaders I have had the honor to work under,” Gonzalez said.
Shortly after completing boot camp, during his job assignment school, Gonzalez’s family grew when his son, Triston, was born. After completing school, he reported to VMU-2 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N. C., in 1999.
“I was a lance corporal with three children,” said Gonzalez. “I had already entered the Marine Corps on a dependent waiver having a wife and two children, now I had another one to add to the mix.”
“My wife has been fabulous throughout my whole career,” Gonzalez said. “I am convinced any success a Marine has is because of the people around him; the people he works with and the ones who support him at home.”
Gonzalez’s support from his family at home is what keeps him going through all the deployments and stress that come with being a part of an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron.
“My wife is great,” Gonzalez said. “She is proud of me serving and helps our children understand how they are doing their part to help the country. She makes them feel like they are a part of the deployment process.”
In 2001 Gonzalez transferred to Marine Wing Headquarters Squadron 2 to work in the inspector’s office. After more than two years with MWHS-2, Gonzalez returned to the Night Owls in December of 2003 and prepared for his first deployment to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Since his first tour in Iraq in 2004, Gonzalez has noticed a difference in the country and an improvement in the situation here.
“Things are getting better,” Gonzalez said. “Although still a dangerous place, I can tell there is an improvement and we are on the right track.”
The work of the ScanEagle detachment here and the rest of VMU-2 play a vital role in the success of the mission. Being able to gain valuable reconnaissance without being detected is a great tool the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing uses to gain intelligence without putting a Marine’s life in harms way.
“The best way I feel we support the mission here is being able to fly over an area and see what is going on before ground troops are sent in to investigate a target,” Gonzalez said. “We are able to do all of this without putting someone’s life at risk. That is another Marine who is able to return home to their family.”
Gonzalez is just one of many Marines who sacrifice daily to ensure that quality video surveillance is available to any unit to give them an upper hand in the fight. The work the VMU-2 Marines do is invaluable to the fight and the mission of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing in Iraq. Gonzalez provides the necessary support, and agrees that support from home is one key ingredient to his success here.
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