Military service = family tradition for Army North SGM
April 30, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- The concept of "Service" can mean many things for many people. For some, it may merely be an act of helpful activity -- to do something for another person -- to provide a service.
For one family in particular however, service means serving the nation. And they need to look no further than their father for guidance.
Spc. Janice Gonzales, and her two brothers: Pfc. Jeffrey Gonzales and Pfc. Tomas Gonzales Jr., say the reason they joined the U.S. Army is due to the example set by their father, Sgt. Maj. Tomas Gonzales, operations sergeant major, U.S. Army North.
Gonzales, a 23-year veteran, initially entered service out of San Antonio, when he joined the Texas National Guard in April 1986. Three years later, he chose to continue his service, this time entering the active-duty Army in May 1989 as an infantryman. Since then, he has had a profound influence on his family and those around him.
"Growing up, my dad instilled in me what the Army instilled in him -- values, morals and discipline," Janice said. "Dad is the noncommissioned officer that I hope to become one day; he has lit a path that I will try to achieve."
Janice, who is currently deployed as a signal Soldier at the German-run Camp Marmal, Afghanistan, near Mazar-e-Sharif, said she joined the Army because, like her dad, she wanted to do something important.
"I wanted to be a part of something that was bigger than just me; I wanted to make footprints and move mountains," she said. "I wanted to feel that I was making a difference, and I knew that enlisting in the military would give me that opportunity."
Gonzales, a San Antonio native, said he offered advice to each child after their high school graduation.
"I gave them all the same speech," he said. "Look, I understand if you don't want to leave home yet, but you have to go to college or go to work full-time -- there's no free beans."
Three of his children joined the Army; a fourth child, Mark, is currently attending college, and Jason, his fifth child, is two years old -- so he has a little more time to make his decisions in life.
At Army North, Gonzales has made an impact as well.
"He put everything into a better working order," said Master Sgt. Natividad Ruiz, shift team operations officer, Current Operations Integration Center, Army North. "He streamlined and standardized a lot of the processes and minimized bureaucracy and red tape. His efforts have created a better working environment here."
Although Gonzales has had a great influence on his family, he said his sons and daughter have also had a great influence on him and inspire him.
"I feel very proud that they chose this path. I did not tell them or try and influence them into joining -- they did so on their own," Gonzales said. "Of course, I worry about them. They are still my children, and that will never change, but to know that they are part of something much greater than themselves is very exciting."
While he is very proud of Janice, Jeffrey and Tomas, he said that having three of his five children in the Army has some drawbacks.
"The last time we all got together was when we were in Germany in 2008 during Christmas," Gonzales said. "Being in the military will always make being together difficult -- but not impossible."
Juanita, Gonzales' wife, said she has various feelings about the "family business."
"I have a range of emotions when I think of my husband and children in the military, but the one that stands out is pride," Juanita said. "When I met Tom, I knew right away who he was and what he wanted to do. When he proposed, I thought about what our future would be like and it's been everything and more."
The Army has been a good fit, she said.
"For us and our family, the Army has been a good lifestyle, but, most importantly, it has taught us how not to take anyone for granted -- to cherish what we have, love one another and to live life to the fullest," she said. "Military families are here one day and could be somewhere else the next."
Gonzales, who grew up in San Antonio and went to high school at Thomas Jefferson High School, said that although his parents didn't serve in the military, they set an example of service. His mom was a dedicated homemaker, and his dad served for many years as a maintenance supervisor at St. Paul Catholic School in San Antonio.
The Army offered something he needed, so he enlisted.
"When I first joined, I needed some purpose and direction," Gonzales said. "I felt like I was spinning my wheels."
The operations sergeant major stays busy at Army North, managing many day-to-day operations and contingencies, or "putting out fires," as he describes his work.
He said he is proud to serve at Army North and grateful to be working in a unique Army command that serves the people of the United States in homeland defense, civil support and theater security cooperation missions.
His most meaningful work, he said, is leading Soldiers, and he'll never forget his time leading Soldiers through two deployments as a first sergeant at Supply and Transportation Troop, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Fort Carson, Colo.
Gonzales recently went to the graduation ceremony for his son, Tomas Jr., who forged his own path by attending indirect fire infantryman training at Fort Benning, Ga. Upon hearing of Gonzales' son's graduation, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commanding general, U.S. Army North, and senior commander, Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis, congratulated Gonzales.
"Glad to have another proud infantryman in our ranks," said Caldwell. "I have heard many excellent things about you and your role here at Fifth Army, and I truly appreciate your dedication and service. On top of that, you should be just as proud of your son, as well as your daughter who I hear is currently serving in Afghanistan. You truly have a family that is dedicated to serving our nation."
Gonzales said he wasn't sure what was next for him and Juanita -- but he is looking forward to it.
"I could be a command sergeant major," Gonzales said. "Honestly, I've always gone the direction that the Army sets for me -- and it's worked so far. It's not our job to predict the future, but we can sure influence it."
Gonzales said military service is a great opportunity.
"The military life isn't for everyone, but it shouldn't be discouraged," he said. "Our military is an all-volunteer force, and that's what makes us unique. To become a Soldier is not just another job: It's a profession of arms -- with a lifetime of experience."