Marines gains independence in battle | VailDaily.com

Marines gains independence in battle

Veronica Whitney

Coreen SappAfter fighting in Iraq this year, Omar Gonzalez Jr. is back home in Gypsum for a short visit. he spent Christmas with his mother, Rosibel, his father, Pastor Omar Gonzalez, and his sister Marbella and brother Brian.

This was his first war. He was 18-years-old and had been a U.S. Marine for just 9 months.

“It didn’t scare me until we had to go,” says Gonzalez, who is visiting his family in Gypsum for the holidays.

Gonzalez waited for two months in Kuwait until the war started in March.

“I was surprised because I didn’t think we would have to go,” he says. “Then the sergeant came to the tents and said, “Get up and get ready, the President has ordered to go in.'”

Although he was in a war, Gonzalez said he never engaged in battle.

“We towed the artillery so we shot from long range,” he says. “When the war started, I wasn’t afraid, it didn’t seem dangerous.”

Recommended Stories For You

Gonzalez’s first trip ever overseas was to Iraq – with a stop at Camp Pendleton, Calif., where he went through boot camp and the rest of his training.

Although he went almost straight from boot camp to war, Gonzalez says he feels lucky. He came back home unharmed and so did most of his comrades in arms.

“Just one got hurt. One of our staff sergeants was cleaning his weapon and shot himself in the foot,” Gonzalez says.

This war, he says, was different from what he had seen in the movies.

“In World War II and in Vietnam they fought face to face,” he says. “Now, it’s less dangerous.”

Though Omar Jr. talks about the war casually, thoughts of it bring a somber gaze to his parents’ faces.

“When I heard they were sending him to Iraq, I called the Army and asked them if they would take me instead of him,” says Pastor Omar Gonzalez, Omar’s father, and a priest at the Iglesia Cristiana Roca de Salvacion – Christian Church of the Rock of Salvation. “I am 44 and I have already lived.

As a father one suffers. You don’t get any news at all. The army just tells you, “No news, good news.'”

Rosibel Gonzalez, Omar Jr.’s mother, cried a lot while her son was away, Omar Gonzalez says.

“We only got one letter” and no news until Mother’s Day, she says.

“The day after Mother’s Day, Omar called and said he was on his way home,” Omar Gonzalez says.

Palaces and the poor

Omar Gonzalez Jr. had just graduated from Eagle Valley High School when he joined the Marines in June 2002.

“I chose the Marines because I want to be a pilot,” he says.

When he came back from the war for the first time in September, his friends told him he had changed.

“They told me I looked more fit,” says Gonzalez, who lost 15 pounds during boot camp last year. But for Gonzalez, the biggest change is he has done something none of his friends have.

“I’ve always been independent,” he says. “But after being in Iraq I’ve become even more independent and I gained more confidence.”

Omar Jr. turned 19 in April, days before the end of the war. He was shipped out of Iraq in May and before returning home he went with his batallion to Hawaii, Australia and Italy.

“I liked Italy,” he says, “It’s like here, but the mountains seem bigger.”

Although he has seen some of Saddam Hussein’s palaces, Omar Jr. says Iraq looks poor.

“There are no windows in the buildings and some houses are made out of clay,” he says.

In contrast, he found marble, gold and crystal in the palaces.

“There were 10 rooms on each floor and most of them had four floors,” he says.

Trust the kids

For Omar Jr. the most difficult thing was staying awake at nights taking turn for hours on guard duty.

“It’s team work,” he says. “You put your life in the hands of the others. The only people we felt we could trust were the kids.”

To sleep, Omar Jr. and his comrades dug holes in the ground and slept in sleeping bags.

“When you’re really tired, you don’t think about it,” he says. “The maximum you could sleep was six hours.”

Though the invasion of Iraq is over, the insurgency continues to claim the lives of U.S. troops and Omar Jr. says he expects to return there.

And even though weapons of mass destruction haven’t been found in Iraq -one of the Bush Administration’s main reasons for invading the country – Omar Jr. says he has accomplished his purpose in fighting the war.

“They never told us what the mission was or why we were going there,” he says. “But my purpose was to free the people there. And I know we did that from seeing how happy the people were.

“They always cheered for us wherever we went.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.