Darrell Todd Maurina
As Celestino Gonzales sat in his living room last week watching the Fox news network, he paid close attention to world events. After 30 years traveling the world with the United States Army — including two tours of combat duty in Vietnam and postings to Japan and Europe — the New Mexico native has acquired a strong interest in events beyond the U.S. borders.
Two miniature blue star flags on Gonzales’ wall are quiet reminders of a more personal reason for Gonzales’ close attention to the news. All four of his sons are current or former soldiers and the flags represent his sons currently away at war, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
Before retiring in 1986, Gonzales was the sergeant major heading up the ROTC program at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, where for 7 1/2 years he helped college students prepare to become officers.
Gonzales had more than a little firsthand experience with military recruiting. According to an Army Public Affairs article, Gonzales’ father enlisted during World War II and, after returning to his hometown of San Jon, successfully convinced Celestino and four of his five brothers to join the Army.
“I remember when he came home and basically all he ever talked about was how proud he was to be in the military,” Gonzales said. “One of his requirements was that everybody will complete high school, and after I completed high school, I felt that the military was where I wanted to go.”
Gonzales said he didn’t originally plan to stay 30 years in the Army, but after his initial enlistment in 1956, he decided he liked it. “The Army didn’t surprise me with anything; I had talked to my dad so long about the military that I expected everything it gave me and I was ready for it,” he said.
Gonzales said he was happy to pass that love for military service on to his family, where one of his sons has risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel. The silver oak leaf on his son’s collar marks him as standing only two ranks below a general.
Becoming a sergeant major was no small feat, either. Gonzales said he was glad to be able to rise to the third-highest enlisted rank in the Army and, in doing so, provide a role model for younger enlisted soldiers, particularly for Hispanic soldiers.
“Very few folks rise to that level; the responsibilities that are placed on you are out of this world,” Gonzales said. “When you get to that rank, you don’t have to holler anymore. The officers also treat you fantastic, and every time the young officers talk to you they’re just trying to learn from you, get data, and learn what it’s like to be in the Army.”
Gonzales said major benefits of the Army for minorities include that the military can provide training for a future civilian career and teach the discipline needed to succeed in life, as well as provide cash for a college education. For those who remain in the military. He noted that soldiers must treat each other according to the rank on their uniform, not the color of their skin.
Working with ROTC at Eastern New Mexico University was enjoyable, Gonzales said — not only because he had the opportunity to introduce students to a possible career as an Army officer but also because the people of Clovis and Portales support the military. He said that support for the military is what caused him to make Clovis his home after retirement.
“There are very few kids (in this area) who do not have some relatives in the military,” Gonzales said. “A lot of the other schools had problems, but at ENMU there was never any problem.”