Face of Defense: Soldier Sharpens Tactical Skills

CONTINGENCY OPERATING SITE WARRIOR, Iraq, Aug. 9, 2011 — Kneel­ing next to the exit ramp, Army Spc. Luz Natalia Gon­za­lez read­ied her M249 squad auto­mat­ic weapon. As the vehi­cle halt­ed on a crowd­ed street in Kirkuk, Iraq, Gon­za­lez emerged and scanned the area before sig­nal­ing oth­er per­son­nel to exit the vehi­cle and move into a near­by police sta­tion.

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Army Spc. Luz Natalia Gon­za­lez enters a vehi­cle after con­duct­ing secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions out­side a police sta­tion in Kirkuk, Iraq, July 31, 2011.
U.S. Army pho­to by Staff Sgt. Robert DeDeaux
Click to enlarge

Due to the demand­ing oper­a­tional tem­po of her mil­i­tary police pla­toon, Gon­za­lez, assigned to the “Pun­ish­ers” Provin­cial Police Tran­si­tion Team, 1st Advise and Assist Task Force, 1st Infantry Divi­sion, mas­tered her tac­ti­cal skills while on her first deploy­ment in sup­port of Oper­a­tion New Dawn.

“As a sol­dier, being a Pun­ish­er has made me who I am today,” said Gon­za­lez, who hails from Prov­i­dence, R.I. “I nev­er thought I would be this good this ear­ly, and I know I owe that to the expe­ri­ences I’ve had being in this pla­toon.”

Gon­za­lez pro­gressed quick­ly through the MP ranks despite hav­ing less than two years of ser­vice. Con­duct­ing mul­ti­ple mis­sions into the city each week, Gon­za­lez said the mis­sions she per­forms in the Pun­ish­er pla­toon devel­op her as a sol­dier.

“She was a lit­tle timid a first,” said Army Pfc. Renee Cum­mings, a fel­low Pun­ish­er and gun­ner from the Bay Area, Calif. “She came off as shy, but as the mis­sions con­tin­ued, she real­ly showed her aggres­sive side.”

Army Staff Sgt. Richard Med­i­na, an MP squad leader, said he saw poten­tial in Gon­za­lez. “When she came to my squad, I made her my dri­ver,” he said. “It’s a big respon­si­bil­i­ty, but I knew she could han­dle it.”

When on the ground, Gon­za­lez must han­dle com­mu­ni­ca­tions among Med­i­na, the pla­toon, the gun­ner and the rest of the con­voy. Sev­er­al months ago, Med­i­na said, he got to see for him­self that Gon­za­lez was ready for any chal­lenge.

“On a rou­tine vis­it, we came upon [a road­side bomb] on one of the routes,” he said. “There was a lot of con­fu­sion between civil­ians and the Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces already present, so I dis­mount­ed to assess the sit­u­a­tion, leav­ing Gon­za­lez to relay the com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“She had to keep me informed as to what the gun­ner saw and updat­ed every­one else on what was going on, all while ensur­ing the con­voy was moved to a safe dis­tance,” Med­i­na con­tin­ued. “She was calm and clear; she kept a lev­el head. I knew then she was a sol­dier that could be trust­ed with greater respon­si­bil­i­ty.”

Pun­ish­ers con­duct week­ly train­ing sem­i­nars and crime scene inves­ti­ga­tion class­es, pro­vide guid­ance and assis­tance to their Iraqi coun­ter­parts and meet with police chiefs and oth­er law enforce­ment indi­vid­u­als.

Gon­za­lez said she con­ducts patrols and deals with the same dan­gers as infantry sol­diers.

“I’m just like any and every oth­er Pun­ish­er,” she said. “Despite the dif­fi­cul­ties of the mis­sion at hand, I know I have to do my part so every­one else can do theirs.”

Army Lt. Col. Stephen Hugh­es, chief of the Provin­cial Police Tran­si­tion Team, said he’s impressed with the unit’s MPs. “They have all of the sol­dier skills you would find in an infantry unit, but they also have law enforce­ment train­ing and are pre­pared to fight like infantry­men.”

Despite the rig­or­ous mis­sion require­ments, Gon­za­lez said, she is grate­ful for every­thing she learned dur­ing this deploy­ment.

“I always knew I would come into the Army,” she said with a smile, “and I’m glad my first expe­ri­ence was as a Pun­ish­er.”

Source:
U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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