FORT KNOX, Ky. - In 2003, 1st Sgt. Paul D. Gomez was searching for something to give him a purpose, focus, and a sense of self-worth. He was attending college, but at the time it didn't feel like the right fit.
"After speaking with a few of my family members who had served in a variety of branches, I noticed that each of them said joining the military was the best decision they had ever made," Gomez said. "I really had no ambitions and I wasn't sure where I was going in the world, so hearing that really inspired me at that point to enlist in the Army."
Now, 16 years later, Gomez has found that focus and purpose. As the first sergeant of Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), Special Troops Battalion, 1st TSC, he is responsible for the health, welfare, morale, training and professional development of all the Soldiers in his company.
Gomez is just one of many Hispanic Soldiers making up the Army ranks. Approximately 136,000 Hispanics served in the Army in 2018, according to army.mil. The Army celebrates the culture and contributions of individuals of Hispanic descent every year from Sept. 15-Oct. 15 during National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Gomez, a Mexican-American, said he was always curious about his family's culture, but became even more interested after joining the Army.
"After I joined the military I started asking some of my aunts and uncles who are well-versed in our family history, and it turns out we're from Chihuahua, Mexico," said the San Antonio, Texas native. "Things like that are really interesting to me."
Gomez, a father of two, said he believes it is important that he passes on what he knows about his culture to his children.
"I think it is incumbent on me as a parent to ensure they understand where we come from and the things we have experienced," he said. "Furthermore, I think it's important that they are exposed to cultures of the world because I want them to be well-versed in different cultures."
Gomez said anyone can attain success in the Army if they are deserving.
"The Army does an amazing job in ensuring that the right people are put in the right place, regardless of where they come from, their cultural background," he said. "I think that's one of the driving forces behind why people join the military because they understand in this organization you are going to get a fair shake, if you will."
Gomez said his family back home in San Antonio is very proud of what he has achieved in the Army. Many of his extended family members have served in the military although none have made it to the rank of first sergeant.
For Gomez, getting to the rank of first sergeant was not something he did without support from his family and fellow Soldiers.
"My being where I am today did take a lot on my part to get here, but it is never by yourself," he said. "There's always a supporting cast, and in my case, my supporting cast was my family and everyone I have ever worked with. I've had some extremely great soldiers, some extremely great leaders and some extremely great mentors."
He credits his family for their willingness to embrace the Army lifestyle.
"It's amazing how fully ingrained they are into the Army culture and way of life," Gomez said, when speaking of his wife and two children. "They have been extremely supportive, extremely resilient through all the change."
While growing up, his family instilled in him that family should always come first. Making family a priority is something he has passed on to the Soldiers in his company.
"I always tell Soldiers, you have to ensure you take care of your family, because no matter how many years you do in the Army, when its all said and done, and you're standing on the parade field, the only people to your left and right are going to be your family."
In October, after two years at 1st TSC, Gomez will return to his hometown of San Antonio, Texas to take over a new position at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.