3,000-Mile Journey To The Marine Corps and Citizenship
For U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Nicholas Gonzalez-Alzate, his 3,000-mile journey to the Marine Corps began in Bogotá, Colombia when he was four-years-old.
Sometimes, success is achieved during the journey rather than reaching the destination.
His mother, a guidance counselor for children with special needs, and father, owner of a shoe store and security guard, wanted a better future for their children in America, and took their first opportunity to move to Norwalk, Connecticut in 2003.
The family encountered the normal challenges of moving but also confronted an additional obstacle, learning the English language.
Fortunately, the family had relatives in Norwalk that helped them get settled where Gonzalez-Alzate excelled in academics and sports. He graduated high school in 2017 and enrolled in community college, intent on becoming an electrical engineer.
Without a U.S. citizenship, Gonzalez-Alzate was ineligible for financial aid, so he worked full-time at a bakery to finance school. He then met a local Marine Corps recruiter and made the decision to enlist into the United States Marine Corps: an easy choice because of his family’s military history and the Marine Corps’ reputation as the toughest and most demanding service.
Initially, his parents were disappointed in the interruption of his education but excited and proud about his decision to serve his country, the land that provided them so many opportunities.
After boot camp in 2019, Gonzalez-Alzate discovered that due to an administrative error, he would be assigned the military occupation specialty (MOS) of 0621 radio operator rather than a combat engineer. Fortunately, the MOS has been rewarding and provided many subsequent opportunities to grow beyond his expectations.
“Getting to know the people in the Marine Corps is what I enjoy most,” Gonzalez-Alzate said. “Learning about their backgrounds, where they’re from, and what (they believe in).”
While serving in the 8th Communications Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Gonzalez-Alzate has been a staple of excellence within the Marine Corps’ ranks.
His exemplary performance has given him the opportunity to manage the unit’s Body Composition Program, a position usually reserved for noncommissioned officer or a higher-grade individual with top tier fitness standards. It is a physically demanding assignment which he thoroughly enjoys exemplifying.
“Leading from the front—not a lot of people in the civilian world did that,” Gonzalez-Alzate said. “It was, ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ You have to care about other people and their welfare, if you do that the mission will get accomplished…they go hand-in-hand.”
A Marine Corps enlistment also provided Gonzalez-Alzate with the opportunity to gain citizenship, and on July 21, 2020, he added another title next to U.S. Marine ... American citizen.
“It was a huge relief, and it felt great,” he said.
Ultimately, this is what National Hispanic Heritage Month represents. It is about the individual stories of people, families from far-away lands, who leave everything behind for an opportunity in America, regardless of the challenges and obstacles.
“It’s thanks to my parents and to my brother that I’m where I’m at today,” he said. “They are the reason for my success and my achievements.”
Many Hispanic and Latino-American Marines have a story of overcoming obstacles and challenges, either as first-generation Americans or as the children of immigrants in hope of a better life than the one they left behind. Gonzalez-Alzate’s journey to the Marine Corps and American citizenship is unique and yet instantly familiar.
“I felt very proud during that moment, when they handed me the little American-flag,” he said. “I knew I belonged.”