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Local grads serving their country

Special to the Daily Seaman Milton Walters, a 2005 Battle Mountain High School graduate, was stationed on the U.S.S. Trenton for a year and a half. He traveled to Greece, Turkey, Bahrain and the Suez Canal.
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VAIL ” They headed out to the dance floor, and showed everyone else how it was done.

That was at Battle Mountain’s homecoming dance in 2004, and that was the first time Cesar and Milton met.

They became best friends through their senior year of high school. They had a lot in

common: They both liked to dance and they had the same taste in clothes.

And their friendship has lasted as they’ve circled the globe through war zones, Cesar with the Marines and Milton with the Navy.

Cesar, 19, just got back from Iraq after spending seven months at a base near Fallujah. Milton, 22, spent a year and a half on the U.S.S. Trenton, and he helped evacuate people during the Lebanon War.

They talk on the phone at least once a week, about “just anything,” Cesar said.

“We talk about each other, our moms, our family, anything and everything,” Cesar said.

Seaman Milton Walters had come to the mountains from Brooklyn to spend his senior year here. His cousin Ralph Green, a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team, had given Milton a standing offer to spend some time in Eagle County.

“One day, I just took him up on the offer,” he said.

It was a tough adjustment at first, coming to Vail from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn.

“When I first got out here it was like culture shock,” Milton said. “In New York City, everything is so fast paced.”

He slowly adjusted ” he met friends like Cesar and learned how to snowboard. He graduated from Battle Mountain in 2005.

After graduation, Milton entered the Navy. He wanted to be a good role model for his 11-year-old brother, he said.

“He looks up to me, and I wanted to show him there are other things out there than being on the streets,” he said.

He was assigned to the U.S.S. Trenton in October of 2005. It was another adjustment for Milton, but, again, he adjusted quickly to the tight quarters.

“You get used to it right away,” he said. “Sleeping in a boat is kind of uncomfortable, but you get used to it.”

The Trenton went to Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Bahrain and the Suez Canal. Last summer, the ship evacuated Lebanese-Americans to Turkey during the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“We were part of history, because my ship evacuated 3,500 people,” he said.

One day, he saw a bomb fly right over the ship.

“It was pretty scary, honestly,” he said. “Mostly, I was worried about the people because there were so many people we hadn’t rescued at that time.”

The Trenton was later decommissioned and sold to the Indian Navy.

He’s starting college while serving in the Navy, and is interested in studying English, history or music. He plays the piccolo, the flute, the saxophone and the drums.

“Everybody knows me in Colorado for music or writing poetry,” he said.

Lance Cpl. Cesar Gonzalez decided he would join the Marines as he neared graduation at Red Canyon High School.

Just like his friend Milton, Cesar said he wanted to be a good role model.

“There were a lot of reasons,” he said. “The main reason was the fact that I didn’t think my cousins had anyone to look up to.”

A lot of the adults his young cousins know had been in jail or used drugs, he said. Cesar eventually wants to study computer science in college after his duty in the Marines.

Cesar headed to Iraq late last year with the Marines, where he was stationed near Fallujah.

“Every direction we looked was pretty much desert,” he said.

At the base, Cesar was a field artillery fire finder/radar operator. That means he would use radar to find incoming rounds from insurgents, determine where exactly they came from, then send the info to gunners, who would sometimes fire back.

Incoming fire was frequent, he said.

“I would wake up to an explosion every day,” he said. “It’s a little scary for a while, but you get used to it.”

But Cesar said he wished he could get off the base and closer to the action, even if that was more dangerous.

“That’s all you want to do is get off base,” he said. “I used to ask for permission to go off-base, and I never got it.”

Cesar and Milton were back in Eagle County this weekend for a gathering in Singletree on Friday hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Milton has been in Pensacola, Fla., since January, learning a new job ” parachute rigger. He’s now headed to Naval Air Station Oceanic in Virginia Beach, Va.

Now, Cesar is headed to Camp Pendleton in California. He may be headed back to Iraq in five months.

“I’m perfectly fine with it,” he said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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