War Hero Recounts Lives Saved In Afghanistan
by U.S. Army Russell Toof,
Garrison Fort Leavenworth
November 19, 2022
Sitting inside one of the many buildings
around Fort Leavenworth that belong to the Mission Command Training
Program, is Sgt. Maj. Antonio Gonzalez. He is the ultimate believer
in the Army values and by all definition, a war hero. His actions in
Afghanistan in 2007 would result in the Silver Star, the
third-highest award for valor in the U.S. Army.
October 27, 2022 - U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Antonio Gonzalez is the operations sergeant major for the Mission Command Training Program
at Garrison Fort Leavenworth. His actions in Afghanistan in 2007 would result in the Silver Star, the third-highest award for valor in the U.S. Army. Gonzalez enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1996, following graduation from Kansas State University, where he was also on the football team. (Image
created by USA Patriotism! from U.S.
Army photo by Russell Toof, Garrison Fort Leavenworth.)
Gonzalez grew up in Boyel Heights, which is
in East Los Angeles, an area known for drug and gang wars and also
“Despite what was happening where I grew
up, I met some outstanding friends at Bishop Mora Salesian High School,” said Gonzalez. “I graduated in
1987 and to this day, I still keep in touch with them. That’s the
loyalty we have within that bond.”
Sports were also an
escape for him.
“I grew up loving the Raiders, Dodgers, Magic
Johnson and the showtime Lakers, Kirk Gibson hitting that home run
in the World Series, all of that,” he said.
His passion and
skill in sports eventually led him to a football scholarship at
Kansas State University playing for Bill Snyder, who won more than
200 games in his college football coaching career.
playing days ended and he earned his college degree in 1994,
Gonzalez walked into an Army recruiter's office in 1996, following
through on his desire since childhood to serve in the military.
“The recruiter was a little surprised when I walked in,” said
Gonzalez. “I was like ‘you don’t have to give me a whole speech, you
don’t have to sell me on anything, I want to be an infantryman,
where do I sign?’ I wanted to serve my country. I wanted to be out
there in the woods, shooting guns and all that good stuff that comes
with being an infantryman in the Army.”
Gonzalez said he came
into the recruiter’s office so abruptly they asked if he was running
from the police.
“I had grown up in a community where a lot
of folks joined the military and it was something I had always
wanted to do, I just wanted to get my education first,” said
In 1996, Gonzalez arrived at Ft. Campbell,
Kentucky, his first duty station. Six years later he went to try out
for the Special Forces and he eventually joined the 7th Special
Forces Group out of Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. Now a member of the
Green Berets, Gonzalez trained, advised and assisted numerous times
in South and Central America.
Like many in the combat arms
and special forces community, there were multiple deployments to
Afghanistan during two decades of war. The events of June 11, 2007,
remain clear in Gonzalez’s head like it just happened.
time, Gonzalez was part of the Special Forces Operational Detachment
Alpha 732 out of Ft. Bragg. He and the others were ambushed by
Taliban fighters following a routine patrol in the Uruzgan Province.
Throughout the fight, he exposed himself to Taliban snipers and
machine gunners three times, eventually saving the lives of four
Afghan security force members who had been trapped. Gonzalez almost died
in the process.
“A sniper bullet just whispered right by my
head,” he said. “I could have kissed it, that's how close it was.
But if I had to do it again, I would. That’s just the type of person
I am. Loyalty is one of the Army values. You have that in sports as
well, the whole team concept. You don’t want to be the reason why
the other team scored a touchdown and you lost the game. In war or
combat, you don’t want to be the reason why your teammates are shot
The Special Forces motto is "De Oppreso Liber”
which translates from Latin as "to free the oppressed."
“That's truly what I felt we were doing over there,” said Gonzalez.
“They were being oppressed by the Taliban and all these enemy folks
and you just know innocent people are being killed when they were
just trying to live their lives. In the states, you see kids running
around and you see the kids in Afghanistan, they can’t even be kids
because they’re being oppressed. It makes you appreciate it more
when you come back to the states, so you hug your kids a little
tighter and a little longer and you tell them you love them.”
Gonzalez had another brush with death in 2013 when he received
news that his son, serving in the Army himself as a combat medic
specialist, has been injured in combat and almost died in
“I literally could not move when I received that
call, “said Gonzalez. “I was paralyzed and scared for my son but
thank God he eventually recovered.”
As he approaches 30 years
in uniform, there is another event in his career that continues to
shape him to this day. One he must hold back tears when talking
“There was a guy, Travis, who was on my team, just a
good person and his parents are beautiful human beings, and Travis
was killed in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device on a
deployment before the one I received the Silver Star for,” he said.
“When I made the rank of master sergeant and then I was a team
sergeant, I told myself that if you’re on my team, no one is going
to die on my watch. When we came back from Afghanistan, the wives
thanked me for bringing their husbands home.”
that Travis Hunsberger was an “18E,” a Special Forces Communications
Sergeant on ODA 732, and he is the real hero.
it all,” said Gonzalez. “Some gave some, but he gave all. He is the
hero along with all of our fallen heroes. I’m no hero compared to
His two-decade-plus military career has gone full
circle as he finished out his undergraduate degree serving an
internship at the United States Penitentiary, Leavenworth. These
days, Gonzalez is the operations sergeant major for MCTP. He
oversees administrative requirements for Soldiers in the unit, not a
combat role but still making sure Soldiers and their families are
taken care of.
“I met a lot of great people in this business
and if I was to change any of it, I would never have met those great
people because the good people that I have met outweigh the bad.”
He credits his parents and his wife Alyson for supporting him
through the highs and lows.
“I have to thank my parents for
sacrificing everything for us and raising us with love and
discipline,” said Gonzalez. “They encouraged us to always strive to
do better and give it 100% every time. Always respect others and
especially your elders. I’m the oldest of four boys and we all are
doing well because of our parents.”
“My wife Alyson has been
my bedrock and support pillar. She is a school counselor at Edgerton
(Kansas) Elementary and I guess she tends to give me some counseling
from time to time. We both graduated from Kansas State and love
being alumni and continuing to support the school.”
was honored before a September 2022 football game at the university.
He was awarded the Medal of Military Excellence and a President
Emeritus Myers coin. The university's president, Dr. Richard Linton,
presented the awards to Gonzalez to recognize his Army career.
"I've been most proud of what Tony has done since leaving Kansas
State University and getting invested in the service, and it just
goes along with his nature and wanting to do what is right and
provide guidance for his fellow teammates and his country," said
coach Snyder in an interview before the game.
Honoring The Fallen |
Don't Weep For Me |
Remember The Fallen |
Tears For Your Fallen |
America's Best | America's Greatest
Heroes | Uncommon Valor
Our Valiant Troops |
I Am The One
Answering The Call
The U.S. Marines |
Citizens Like Us |
Vietnam War Veterans
Spouses Serve Too
We The People
Answering The Call |
One Nation Under God |
Love and Pride of USA
National Will |
God and Country |
America, My Home!