AL ASAD, Iraq -- Taking a job personally can oftentimes lead to heartache and long hours, but for one Marine it has meant nothing but success and admiration.
Sergeant Abraham Gonzalez, the career retention specialist for Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26 (Reinforced), received a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal Oct. 15 for reenlisting 42 first-term Marines, surpassing 100 percent of his mission, two weeks into the fiscal year.
The 25-year-old Bronx, N.Y., native, oversees career retention for the deployed Patriots of MALS-26. As a CRS, Gonzalez counsels Marines on reenlistment options and incentives, prepares and maintains career planning requests and records and advises the commanding officer on all career planning matters.
“I am an unbiased liaison on all career retention matters, reenlistments, special duty assignments, permanent changes of station, whatever,” Gonzalez said. “Marines know when they come to me they are going to get a straight opinion based on knowledge.”
Gonzalez, who joined the squadron less than a year ago, was given a mission of reenlisting 29 percent of the squadron’s first-term Marines for Fiscal Year 2006. Career retention specialists are annually tasked with retaining a certain amount of Marines whose end of active service date falls in the upcoming fiscal year.
“Normally the mission for a CRS is 25 percent of the squadron’s first-term Marines, but this year was different,” Gonzalez said. “I had never imagined I would have to reenlist 38 Marines because I’ve never dealt with that big a number. Instead of worrying about it, I got out and did it.”
Gonzalez not only worked for Patriots based at Al Asad, he also traveled to forward operating bases in the Al Anbar province to brief and counsel Marines on their options and hear their concerns or questions about reenlisting.
“I try to be a mentor for younger Marines, because I know what it’s like to be in their position,” Gonzalez said. “I approach every case as if it were me sitting in that chair.”
The path to success for Gonzalez as a CRS was not straight and wide. His entrance into the field came at a time when he was considering leaving the Marine Corps.
“Ironically, it was because my career planner screwed up,” Gonzalez said. “I was an administration clerk with a squadron and we were deployed. My reenlistment package was entered late and all the boat spaces (individual job positions) were full. That was it for me. I really thought I was about to leave the Corps behind.”
Wanting to atone for the mistake, Gonzalez’ career planner found him a spot as a CRS. The only obstacle was convincing the Marine it would be a good move.
“I really thought I wanted to get out, but he really pushed me toward taking the CRS spot,” Gonzalez said. “One day, the officer-in-charge of my section came to me and said he thought I should take it. He said my administration background and people skills would help me excel. After that, I decided if they had confidence in me, it could work out.”
Gonzalez believes destiny got him that far, but the work of two senior Marines really set him up for success. After completing CRS training, Gonzalez was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., where he work for Master Sgt. Jannifer R. Long and Gunnery Sgt. Tanya E. Huling.
“They had the biggest impact you could imagine,” Gonzalez said. “Gunnery Sgt. Huling set the bar very high for me right away, but she was a mentor at the same time, always willing to help. Master Sgt. Long cut me no slack. I knew from both of them exactly when I messed up, but I always got acknowledged when I did something good.”
Gonzalez landed on both feet and took off running in the CRS field, Huling, Gonzalez’ CRS staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge at Miramar, said.
“I saw potential in Sgt. Gonzalez from day one,” Huling said. “He checked in motivated, brimming with ideas and ready to lead Marines. Sgt. Gonzalez always believed in leading by example, his uniform was always impeccable and his technical expertise was seen on a daily basis. He was a stellar performer who consistently performed above and beyond his pay grade.”
Leading by example and consistently performing above average are extremely important in the CRS field, Gonzalez said.
“This job is not for everyone, you really have to be a people person, have to set the example with your own actions,” Gonzalez said. “When people see that, word spreads out and instead of looking for them, they come to you. I think two things that set me apart are Marines have confidence in me and I’m very passionate about my job.”
Word about Gonzalez’ performance in Miramar spread quickly, but his actions as a Marine, not just a CRS, added to his reputation, Huling said.
“His polished people skills and communication ability made him sought after from those in and out of the command,” Huling said. “While he was here, besides doing an awesome job as a CRS, he volunteered to be platoon sergeant for the barracks and squadron formations. These are just a few of the things that put him well beyond his peers.”
Leaving Miramar and the security of working with two senior Marines was a big step for Gonzalez, but he was prepared and had the confidence of his superiors behind him, he said.
“Coming into MALS-26 to fill a staff NCO billet was a big challenge,” Gonzalez said. “But, I knew I wouldn’t have been recommended for it if I wasn’t ready.”
Gonzalez proved he was up for the job, easily passing every other squadron in 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing with his first year results. Gonzalez’ contributions to the squadron have been priceless, Sgt. Maj. Leroy Williams, MALS-26’s sergeant major.
“He is a sergeant of Marines, not just a CRS,” Williams said. “He does his job with passion and reflects every virtue the command hopes to instill in all of our Marines. He keeps me sharp if I let a package sit on my desk too long and I know it’s just because he cares so much. I am just proud to death of him.”
The family atmosphere shared by the Patriots was an important part of Gonzalez’ success, he said.
“Each section is basically a small family and when everybody comes together, the squadron is top rate in every category,” Gonzalez said. “Our sergeant major has this amazing power over Marines, he can see a Marine having a bad day and make them smile. The commanding officer regularly sends out squadron emails acknowledging individual Marines who have done good things, and that’s something I’ve never seen before. The executive officer works and plays right alongside Marines from every section so they really get a chance to see that he is a Patriot, just like the rest of us.
“The family atmosphere they have created here just makes my job so much easier because Marines want to stay here, and I’m happy to help them do that,” Gonzalez said.
Recognizing Gonzalez’ contributions to the squadron was important because many Marines don’t stop to think about the impact a good CRS can have, said Lt. Col. Carmine J. Borrelli, the squadron’s commanding officer.
“Retention is an important issue, not only to the Marine Corps but to individual squadrons like ours,” Borrelli said. “The retention Sgt. Gonzalez has produced not only means he is preserving valuable expertise in the squadron, he is also indirectly contributing to the record-breaking aircraft readiness enjoyed by (Marine Aircraft Group 26).”
Tackling a mission with passion and personality is just another day at the office for Gonzalez. Mission accomplishment may have included recognition and reward for him this time, but Gonzalez said the most important part of his job is helping Marines.
“Helping the people I work with is where I draw my motivation,” Gonzalez said. “If I was destined to help my squadron and the Marine Corps in this way, then so be it. Personally and professionally, it doesn’t get any better than this.”