AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar – In the cargo bay of a C-130 Hercules from the 911th Airlift Wing, Pittsburgh Air Reserve Station, two loadmasters hold up a U.S. flag. The flag has meaning, memories and a story to U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Isela Gonzalez, chaplain assistant with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Chapel. With a stern look, she recites the oath of enlistment and the next chapter of the flag’s journey begins.
“This reenlistment is the fulfillment of my 2007 prayer,” said Gonzalez. “I prayed for nine months, that I wanted to feed peoples’ spiritual needs all over the world. When it came time to get out or re-train, I think God reminded me of my prayer.”
Her journey to this stage of her life started on a lonely path.
“I always had a dream to join the military,” said Gonzalez. “I thought it [the dream] was not possible. I didn’t think I was smart enough, or capable, because I graduated from high school three years before joining the military.”
Gonzalez describes the nine months before joining the military as a lonely time. Those days were filled with a routine that strengthened her endurance and knowledge while she waited to go into the military.
“I lived four hours away from family, so I had no one I could really have fellowship with or have mentor me,” said Gonzalez. “I would wake up, immediately pray, go to work, go running or hit the gym, study math and go to some type of church group afterwards. I did that for the entire nine months.”
“I knew and had to trust that what I was doing was the right thing,” said Gonzalez. “God does not call the qualified, he qualifies the called.”
Gonzalez started her military career with an interest in the criminal justice system, wanting to contribute to the fight and still be able to help her fellow Airmen with their spiritual needs. At the time in which Gonzalez joined the military, in 2007, combat roles where limited for women. Security Forces was the closest career that fit Gonzalez’ criteria.
When it was time for her first enlistment to end, Gonzalez had to make a choice to stay in or get out.
“I did not know that the Chaplain Corps existed until I had to retake my ASVAB,” reflects Gonzalez. “That is when I found out about the chaplain assistant [career field] and they were the only ones accepting people.”
Each step along the way, Gonzalez now believes that God had been qualifying her for her next duty station assignment and she didn’t even know it.
“My fiancée is a pararescue specialist,” said Gonzalez. “He has had a goal of being assigned to the 724th Special Tactics Group ever since I met him. We talked about him completing this goal and what I would do after he was assigned to them. I will have my Masters in Divinity and I would be ok with doing ministry work while he was living out his goal.”
Well-founded on the idea of doing ministry work while her fiancée pursued his goal, Gonzalez received a phone call offering her a job. Out of curiosity, and before saying no to the offer, Gonzalez started to ask questions. The caller stated that the 724th Special Tactics Group was looking at adding a new chaplain assistant to their organization and requested that she be one of 80 applicants. Over the course of a couple months, the 80 applicants turned into three applicants and, finally Gonzalez was selected for the position.
“When this door opened with the 724th Special Tactics Group, I knew clear cut that God was really calling to me to serve our country and do something that would impact people because he sees something in me,” reflects Gonzalez. “I feel like with this prestigious assignment, which I am about to take, it does not get any better than this. This is a gift.”
As Gonzalez places the folded up flag into a zip lock, she reflects.
“My fiancée has taken this flag with him all through pararescue school,” stated Gonzalez. “He has brought it with him on his deployment. As I was packing to come here, he placed it in a zip lock bag and handed it to me. He said, “It is your turn to take the flag because you are leaving.” Hopefully, one day I will be able to hand this flag to our kids and say, “There is a story behind this flag.”