From the Frontlines: Senior Airman Estiven Gonzalez

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Senior Airman Estiven Gonzalez, 509th Operations Support Squadron SERE specialist, returned from his six-month deployment to Southwest Asia in November. There, he provided essential training to more than 600 soldiers who depended on him to teach them how to avoid capture and what to do if they were to get captured.

Being the only SERE specialist in Iraq, Airman Gonzalez proved that knowledge and skills aren't always linked to rank by not only teaching Joint Personal Recovery Center Army members how to avoid capture, but also conducting awareness and recovery missions.

"It was sometimes challenging to get senior-ranking members to trust me as an E-4," said the Air Force Global Strike Command member. "But they came around once they started to see I knew what I was doing."

His supervisor and colleague here explained why Airman Gonzalez was able to exceed the Army's expectations.

"He is an extremely knowledgeable and motivated SERE specialist," said Staff Sgt. Michael Garcia, 509th OSS SERE specialist. "He always gets the job done right the first time, and I'm sure his co-workers saw that while he was deployed."

Sergeant Garcia said Airman Gonzalez always does a great job at work, and it doesn't surprise him to find out that Airman Gonzalez did a phenomenal job while deployed, even though he has a different mission at Whiteman AFB.

"My job at Whiteman AFB is to ensure pilots get updated on SERE training that they are required to have in order to fly," Airman Gonzalez said. "I teach them everything from water survival training to emergency parachute training."

Aside from working with Army members, he also collaborated with the Department of State, showing them how they can apply Department of Defense techniques to stay safe in a war zone.

"I felt very accomplished in doing a part of my job I usually don't get to do at Whiteman AFB," Airman Gonzalez said. "It is a great feeling to be able to save lives and create an impact."

Airman Gonzalez said he was most proud of being able to leave a product behind that the Army could use and hopes they are still using everything he taught them.

"I have a sense of relief knowing that even though I'm not deployed anymore, there are people in Iraq now using and applying my knowledge."

When he was not at work, Airman Gonzalez said he was occupied with volunteer work.
"I coached a volleyball and soccer team and put together a tournament for each, bringing together individuals from 14 nations," he said. "It was a huge success; I was even able to get lights for the field."

Even though it was a great experience, he said he was glad to be home with his wife and his one-year-old baby girl, Elize.