FORT DRUM, N.Y. - For many soldiers, running is a task they perform primarily during physical training hours to maintain the Army standard, but for Spc. Matthew Gonzales from 1st Brigade Combat Team's B Company, 10th Brigade Support Battalion, running is his way to experience the North Country and give back to the community.
On weekends, Gonzales, or "Gonzo" as his friends call him, searches the Web and seeks out local charity runs to participate in.
"One of the things I have notice about the Army in general is (physical training) is not enough," he said. "Morning PT is a good way to maintain, but doing charity runs is a good way to help the community and stay in shape."
While traveling across northern New York for events, Gonzales has gone as far as Old Forge to Tibbetts Point in Cape Vincent and everywhere in between.
"I started by running the trails in the area, but I was getting tired of seeing the same trails," said Gonzales, a Land Combat Electronic Missile System repairer. "So, I just got a couple of people to go with me, and we found more and more places to run."
No matter the organization, he says that traveling throughout northern New York and meeting new people is more rewarding than the actual running.
"Most of the charity events in this area sponsor some type of military, but it doesn't matter - I'm willing to participate as long as it's for a good cause," he said. "Being able to go out into the community and meet new people has to be one best part of doing this."
Of the runs Gonzales has participated in, one of the most meaningful was the 2nd Annual Michael J. Cerroni Memorial 5K Run/Walk to establish a scholarship fund for two graduating seniors from Carthage Central High School every year in honor of the fallen U.S. Marine Corps captain.
"I did a 5K for Marine Michael Cerroni," he said. "It doesn't matter that he was a Marine and I'm a soldier. We all fight for the same country."
"Gonzo" does not limit himself to running. He has participated in a variety of fitness events. Last year, he competed in the Strongest Warrior Competition in Watertown and the Freedom March of the Adirondacks.
"The Strongest Warrior Competition was more of an ego thing, because guys want to lift as much as they can, but it was in support of the Wounded Warrior Project as well," he said.
The Freedom March was a 13-mile walk or 5K run through the Adirondack Mountains to raise awareness and money to support wounded veterans living in the area.
Gonzales also has reached out to his comrades from the unit like Spc. Eric Schroder, a Land Combat Electronic Missile System repairer, to ask them to run with him and become more involved in the local community.
"We like to be a part of the community as best as possible," Schroder explained, after competing in the 2nd annual Race for Open Space last year in Philadelphia, which was a 10K run or a 5K walk in support of local farm land preservation.
"It's good to go out there and show we care," Schroder added. "The way the community accepts us, it's awesome that we can pull together and do these kinds of things."
"I think this is a great way to show other soldiers that there is a life beyond our barracks room," Gonzales said. "More people should get out there and explore this area."
Although getting involved in the community and supporting charities are his priority, Gonzales said he hopes the additional workouts help him achieve a few personal and professional goals too.
In December, while attending Warrior Leader Course to improve his leadership skills, he distinguished himself from his peers by achieving the title of Iron Warrior with the highest PT score.
"These events have definitely helped me personally and professionally, because I haven't always been good at running, but I just kept doing it and now I have one of the highest PT scores in my company," said Gonzales, who continually achieves the maximum score on the Army physical fitness test.
Soon "Gonzo" will leave for Ranger School, but he said he will strive for more as he progresses in his Army career.
"I think doing charity events will go a long way in helping me to prepare for Ranger School, both mentally and physically," he said.
Once he completes Ranger School, his sights will be set on attending more Army schools, like Airborne and Pathfinder.
Ultimately, his goal is to become a member of the special operations community, but for now, Gonzales and his friends continue to reach out to the North Country community through charitable runs and fitness competitions.