Our guest blog for today is from 2LT Don Gomez who recently completed Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia and branched Infantry. Here he discusses being in the U.S. Army as an non-commissioned officer during September 11, 2001, leaving the Army and returning to complete Officer Candidate School.
Ten years ago I joined the Army as a young man curious about military service and looking for adventure. Five years ago I left the Army as a disciplined Non-Commissioned Officer with a spirit for service. Now, after finishing college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, I rejoined the Army and recently graduated from Officer Candidate School (OCS).
I joined the Army in April 2001, when an assignment to Korea or peacekeeping duty in Kosovo was the closest to a deployment a soldier could get. I was in Airborne School at Fort Benning, waddling towards a waiting C-130 for my second jump when someone came waving from the aircraft to tell us that all air traffic had been grounded. It was the morning of September 11th. Although I had only been in the Army for a few months, in the coming days I sensed the shift that began as the Army stood up and prepared to go to war.
In 2003, I deployed with the 82d Airborne Division to Kuwait to stage for Operation Iraqi Freedom. Like it was yesterday, I can remember sitting in a truck with my platoon rolling north in the dark, staring out at thousands of pieces of military equipment sitting under palm trees just off of the road which had quickly been positioned in-country to facilitate developing combat operations. As a young Specialist, I remember thinking how incredible it was to be a part of something so massive that required the careful planning and cooperation of so many different partners. I also remember being thankful for the confident and competent leaders who had trained me for this. Lastly, I remember feeling nervous about what lay ahead of us.
Serving as a paratrooper in Iraq was the most significant experience of my life and profoundly shaped the person I have become. I spent most of my time patrolling Baghdad, speaking with Iraqis, struggling with Arabic, fighting boredom, and building relationships unparalleled outside of the military.
Since leaving the Army, not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about my military service, the soldiers I served with, the leaders who inspired me, or the friends I have lost. As a civilian, I was naturally drawn to the veteran community and worked to organize veterans locally and advocate for them nationally. I’d like to say it was completely altruistic, but the truth is being around veterans and fighting for them provided some of the spark that I remembered from my time with the 82d Airborne.
The experience of being on the ground in Baghdad and witnessing some of the missteps of the early days of the Iraq War led me to pursue an education in Middle East Studies. It was clear to me that a gap existed in terms of what we were doing on the ground and the expertise required to get the job done. By pursuing an education in Middle East Studies, I hoped to contribute to the mission through developing a better understanding of the language, culture, history, and politics of the Middle East. Marrying my passion for veterans with Middle East Studies, I wrote my graduate dissertation on the military service of Iraqi soldiers who served during the Iran-Iraq War and their experience after military service as veterans.
After five years of college, mostly covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, I could not ignore how much I missed the Army. While still attending graduate school in London, I contacted an Army recruiter in Germany and began the OCS process. It was with great pride that I was selected to attend OCS and signed my contract on June 14, 2011 – the Army’s 236th Birthday!
Despite having been off of active duty for five years, the transition back in has been pretty smooth. The training and skills I received as a young infantryman lay dormant and only needed to be reactivated. Thankfully, the Drill Sergeants at 30th AG and the cadre at OCS were happy to accelerate that reactivation through the careful application of spirited motivation. Now, after twelve weeks of training, I commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and will head to the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course to begin learning how to lead infantrymen.
While I have noticed some significant changes to Army life since separating in 2006 – the use of social media by both the organizational Army and individual soldiers being one of the major ones – I am pleased to report that the Army Values that compelled me to rejoin and the spirit of service held by soldiers is as strong and alive as ever. I am proud to be back in the Army and prouder still to be charged with leading American soldiers during a time of war and strategic reorganization. I am looking forward to completing my initial training and getting back to the force, where I can give back to the Army that has already given me so much.
2LT Gomez has shared his experience, now we want to here from you. Leave us a brief story about your most memorable Army experience in the comments section.