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Mitch Is Business and Personal to This Soldier

By Pfc. Chrishaun Peeler
Special to American Forces Press Service

SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras, Jan. 19, 1999 – Thousands of U.S. service members are part of the relief operation here in Honduras, but the effort's special for one soldier -- he's helping to rebuild his home.

Staff Sgt. Jose Gonzalez, a native of La Ceiba, Honduras, didn't go home because of Hurricane Mitch, but because the Red Cross told him in September that father had been hospitalized. He was assigned to work in the Joint Task Force-Bravo protocol office here while awaiting a decision on a request for a compassionate reassignment.

When Mitch hit in November, Gonzalez deployed to La Ceiba with Task Force Hope, an 18-day mission to deliver water, food, supplies and medical care to the local residents. As a liaison between the soldiers and the Hondurans, he was both the soldiers' translator and their guide.

"I know the area so well that I could help out a lot. I knew where and where not to go and knew what and what not to do," he said. "With all the human suffering and mass destruction caused by the hurricane, it was great we were able to provide food and water when they really needed it."

Gonzalez came to the United States in 1981 at age 22 to attend Loyola University in New Orleans after receiving a scholarship from a religious organization. In Honduras, he had been a high school history teacher and had worked with numerous Catholic organizations.

He learned English in New Orleans, married, and moved to Chicago to work for the archdiocese of Chicago helping Spanish-speaking people. He enlisted in 1985 as a supply specialist and served in several units before joining the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas. That's where the notified him of his father's illness.

"Gonzalez is my right-hand man. He carries the rock when I'm not here," said Capt. Carlos Gonzalez, task force protocol officer. "He has a lot of institutional knowledge we use to help us out. He knows about the local customs and where to go to get things done. He also played a key role in a lot of the relief missions. There is no way they could have done the things they did so fast without him."

Now, and later if his reassignment request comes through, Gonzalez said he plans to get out more to help people. "There are going to be a lot of medical missions, water missions, and even schools being built," he said. "I'm going to help out anyway I can, even if it's just going out and talking to people and encouraging them that everything is going to be all right because we're here."

[Pfc. Chrishaun Peeler of the 49th Public Affairs Detachment (Airborne), Fort Bragg, N.C., is assigned to the U.S. military relief effort in Honduras.]

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