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Why I Serve: Marine Made 'Conscious Decision'

By Lance Cpl. Lucian Friel, USMC
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEJEUNE, Dec. 3, 2004 – Dec. 3, 2004 "I wasn't feeling college, and it was hard to balance school and work. So I made the conscious decision to serve my country," explained Marine Cpl. Jonnah Gonzalez.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Marine Cpl. Jonnah Gonzalez prepares to fire the 40 mm multiple grenade launcher during a training exercise with the 8th Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Photo by Lance Cpl. Lucian Friel, USMC

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In 2001, a year after graduating from high school, Gonzalez, 22, was attending Westchester Community College when he enlisted in the Marine Corps' Delayed Entry Program.

The Montrose, N.Y., native's decision to join the Marine Corps was also influenced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. "The whole situation made me extremely upset. I know that everyone in America was furious, but for New Yorkers, it hit home just a little bit more," said the machine-gunner with the 8th Marine Regiment.

Before he adopted the lifestyle of a Marine, Gonzalez went to school from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and worked as a patient registration clerk at Phelps Memorial Hospital from 4 p.m. to midnight, Sundays through Thursdays.

Even those long hours as a student and employee didn't prepare Gonzalez for the Marine Corps' way of life.

"You have to work hard to get ahead in life, especially in the Corps. Sometimes you have to work 16- to 18-hour days. You have to do anything it takes to accomplish the mission," he noted.

According to Gonzalez, he uses the same drive to accomplish the mission to train his Marines to the best of his ability.

"Through leadership, I always set the standard for my Marines. They look up to me, and I never deprive them of the training they need," he continued. "I give 110 percent at every firing range we go to. If they see my effort and desire, they will follow."

Gonzalez has continued to grow as a person, toughing it out through deployments to the Middle East. He was in Iraq with the regiment's 2nd Battalion during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.

"During my time in Iraq, I was involved in the battle for An Nasiriyah, and we also helped out with humanitarian missions, delivering food and water to the Iraqi people. All of our Marines came back safe, which is always a priority," he explained.

Returning safe is not only on the Marines' minds, but also on the families' minds back home. Gonzalez's parents support him through his journey in life, though they have different ways of expressing it.

"My mom cries every time I leave, but she knows I make good decisions, and she's always behind me," Gonzalez said. "My dad thinks I'm the greatest kid in the family and is happy every time I get to experience something new. He always tells me how proud of me he is."

Gonzalez and his parents have noticed a change in how he acts and carries himself since joining the Marine Corps. "I have a lot of responsibility. I had to grow up faster than my peers, which was a challenge, but I love a good challenge," explained the squad leader.

According to Gonzalez, outstanding leadership from fellow Marines and his own hard work has helped him out in the Marine Corps. He explained how joining was the best thing he did.

"I found out who I am while maturing as a man," he said. "The Corps has helped me realize who I am today and who I'm going to be as a person in the future."

(Lance Cpl. Lucian Friel is a 2nd Marine Division combat correspondent.)

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