Face of Defense: Former Enlisted Soldier Rejoins as Officer
By Christen Reyenga
U.S. Army Accessions Command
FORT BENNING, Ga., May 17, 2012 Five years after he left the Army, former enlisted soldier Don Gomez decided to rejoin and become an Army officer.
Army 2nd Lt. Don Gomez takes a break with his fellow soldiers while participating at Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Benning, Ga., March 22, 2012 U.S. Army photo by Christen Reyenga
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Now a second lieutenant after graduating from Officer Candidate School, Gomez said he wanted to come back because he missed the camaraderie and adventure of being in the Army.
“I liked being a soldier and wanted to be around soldiers again,” said Gomez, who was finishing a graduate school program in London when he decided he wanted to be an active duty soldier again.
Gomez originally joined the Army at age 19. He was taking community college courses, he said, but he was looking for something that would put him on a better path for his future. He had always been fascinated by the Army, and looking for an adventure, he decided to enlist, he added.
After nearly five years of service and two tours in Iraq, Gomez decided to leave the Army to finish his degree and move on to graduate school using the Montgomery and Post 9/11 GI Bills.
“I’m so thankful to the Army for my education,” Gomez said. “I wouldn’t have been able to attend graduate school without the GI Bill.”
During his first tour in Iraq, Gomez said, he became interested in learning more about the Middle East. Seeing the need for troops to communicate effectively with the Iraqi people and being immersed in their culture led him to pursue a degree in international studies with an emphasis on the Middle East, including learning Arabic.
Gomez credits the Army for his success in school. He took the skills he learned in the field - prioritizing tasks, following instructions, planning his day out and allowing adequate time to complete projects – and applied them to his study routine, he said. He applied these skills to earn his undergraduate degree in New York City, travel abroad to study in Egypt and Morocco, start a veterans’ advocacy group on campus and even earn a scholarship to graduate school in London.
While he was finishing graduate school, Gomez said, he couldn’t ignore how much he missed the Army. After considering his options, he decided to rejoin as an officer. He applied to OCS, and soon after, he packed his bags to come here.
“I was ready and prepared for OCS as a prior-service soldier, and I was ready to take on the challenge of becoming an Army leader,” Gomez said. His hard work paid off. Gomez graduated with the distinguished honor graduate award, given to him for being ranked at the top of his OCS class.
“While the roles are different between a noncommissioned officer and an Army officer, my overall Army training from both worlds has helped me see the big picture as an officer,” said Gomez.
Now an infantry officer who is headed to Army Ranger School this summer, Gomez said he is happy his path in life led him back to the Army.
“I decided to rejoin with the intention of staying,” he said, “and I have no plans of leaving the Army any time soon.”