AL ASAD, Iraq - -- In 1986, as Francisco Dones prepared for high school graduation, he pondered what was next. He had a drive for something more, and he had hopes of making a difference. The decision he made would forever change his life.
“I was a troubled youth and needed some direction,” said Gunnery Sgt. Francisco Dones, the embarkation and logistics chief for Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 764 and Lancaster, Calif., native. “I figured the Marine Corps could give me the change my life needed.”
After high school graduation he enlisted, and after boot camp, reported to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., as a motor transportation vehicle operator in early 1987. While attached to Delta Company 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, he deployed once to Okinawa, Japan for six months, but spent the rest of his four year enlistment in California.
In July 1990, Dones left the ranks of “the Few and the Proud” one month before Operation Desert Shield in the Middle East.
“I was sick of watching the war at home, so I tried to get back in the Corps any way I could,” Dones said. “Five months later, I was attached to a reserve artillery unit in southern California, but we never got the call to deploy. I stayed with them for years through multiple relocations, but after awhile I wanted to see something else.”
In 2000, Staff Sgt. Dones transferred to the Moonlight at Edwards Air Force Base, which was closer to home, but the move forced him to change jobs.
“The squadron didn’t have a motor transportation spot, so I became the embarkation and logistics chief in order to join the unit,” said Dones. “It was a welcome change. All I knew was artillery units, but joining the Moonlight gave me the opportunity to see a different side of the Corps.”
With any Marine, especially Marine reservists, deployments can be hard on the families left behind. Dones’ family is no different. Being activated the last two years for two deployments has been hard on his wife and two children, but the support has never faltered.
“My family isn’t used to me deploying, like maybe an active duty Marine where deploying is more part of the culture with regular deployments every few years or so,” Dones said. “My kids went from only seeing me put my uniform on every once in a while, to wearing it everyday and being gone for 14 of the last 19 months. It is hard on my family but they support me. They understand how much I love the Marine Corps and believe in the mission here.”
Although hard on his family, Dones, like many Marines, would return to combat if called upon; no questions asked.
“I think the service members who have given their lives, died for a great cause,” Dones said. “We are trying to let Iraqis enjoy the things we miss most. Helping them go to their kids’ sporting events without the threat of being attacked and enjoying simple freedoms is what we are here to do.”
Although Dones doesn’t fly as part of the flight crew on the Moonlight’s CH-46s or repair the aircraft, he still has an important role in the mission. By ensuring the squadron’s facilities are squared away, the Marines that do get out and support the Marines in the fight can do so without worrying about the little stuff in their lives. Dones also makes it his mission to help the Marines get through this deployment without loosing their focus on the mission.
“We throw barbeques, host horseshoe tournaments and have built basketball goals for the Marines to use,” Dones said. “These young Marines spend their days turning wrenches in this almost unbearable heat so when I can, I try to do things to help Marines recharge. After working 12 hours a day for months and months, these Marines deserve a chance to let loose for a little while. I try to look out for my junior Marines and make sure they are taken care of.”
Not only with Marines in his squadron, Dones does what he can to help other units around Al Asad.
“I know what it is like to be the new guy in town and not have any contacts while trying to get work spaces organized or move to another base,” Dones said. “When other units need help I do what I can to assist them.”
From his junior Marines to his peers, Dones is known as someone who sets the example of what is expected of a Marine.
“Gunnery Sergeant Dones is a Marine's Marine. He leads from the front and is compassionate about accomplishing the mission and ensuring troop welfare,” said Sgt. Maj. Daniel Townsend. “He is hard working and in great physical condition. Good family man, he maintains an extremely tough exterior, but deep down inside he would give his utility jacket off his back to you.”
“He is a great visible example of what a Marine should be,” said Staff Sgt. Miguel Ruiz, the Marine Corps property chief and friend of Dones since 1994. “He leads from the front and isn’t afraid to own up to a mistake. That is why his Marines respect him. He expects a lot of his Marines, but nothing he wouldn’t do himself.”
As the Moonlight continues its drive with the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, staff noncommissioned officers like Dones lead the charge. Taking care of his Marines and ensuring his warriors are prepared for the mission is paramount. Dones knows this, and does it everyday.
*For more information about this story please e-mail Cpl. Alex Herron at firstname.lastname@example.org*