Lionel Gonzalez

I’ve had 2 tours in Iraq. The 1st tour was the one where I had it the worst. It was not uncommon where we were getting hit every freakin’ day. We started getting a lot of casualties and we needed replacements.

But before the replacements came, we started pulling from within our unit. My room mate Alan was a cook, but we made him an MP. One day I just had a bad feeling. As soon as I got back, I was like “Hey you guys are back already?” And they tell me Alan’s dead.

Me reading the intel reports, knowing where people were getting hit, I’m like “what route did you take?” He said “We took route Vernon.” “Why the hell did you take that route? I’ve been telling you guys to avoid that route!” I knew, had I been there, I would have kept them from going that route. I would have been able to save my room mate’s life and kept everybody from getting hurt.

I’ve had three incidents where I should have died but I didn’t.

We’re on patrol approaching a bridge, and there was a car sitting there. He threw a grenade, it bounced up and all the shrapnel and fragmentation hit me in the back of the head. I was wearing the old-school kevlar, and it came down further in the nape of the neck. The fragmentation hit me hard and shredded my kevlar. By God’s grace that’s what saved me.

We’re doing these 12 hour patrols, and we pulled into a soccer field for a change of duty and to relieve our guys. And that’s when we got ambushed. Bullets are flying between my legs and by the side of my head. My gunner got shot in the hand. My driver got hit in the neck… it blew through his body armor but miraculously stopped in his DCU collar. I just blacked out and started carrying my guys and putting them in trucks to evacuate everybody. I should have been killed because there was so much freakin’ rounds flying that it was unreal.

Another day, we see a little white sedan loaded down. So we spread out our trucks on the street. Then I see this Iraqi lady come out of a store and start walking towards my truck. What the hell is this lady doing? I get out of my truck and try and shoo her away, but she’s very stubborn. Finally in frustration I lost my cool and pointed to the car bomb trying to explain to run away. The trigger man was on the roof, and he saw me point to the car. I just see this flash, and I see debris and flames just peppering my truck. But somehow I’m not getting shredded. I should be either vapor or hamburger meat.

The other squad told me, I was up the air. I was stuck in the air and my feet were kicking, but something was holding me up. EOD shows up to do the blast analysis, and they’re like “dude, there was three 105 rounds in this car. You should be dead.” Strike three for me.

Obviously God has a bigger purpose for me and I don’t know what it is. I started seeking answers. I wasn’t showing anything physically, it was all internal. Nightmares. Anger. Road Rage. Lashing out at my kids. Verbally abusive.

We started going to church finally. Did I believe in Christ? Yes. Had I ever accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior? I guess I’d never asked Him to… no. So that night they led me through Romans 10:9-13. You don’t need a priest. You don’t need anyone to intercede for you. You have this direct line of communication to the Lord. Wow. It’s that easy? It’s just that quick and easy of a gift to get? It opened up my eyes.

That’s when I deployed for my second tour. Thankfully there was a few other guys I was able to lead to Christ in that deployment. Again I came back home, but I fell into the same routine. The PTSD comes back. Thankfully I found a group of veterans from all areas and all generations. We help each other deal with combat trauma. I’m able to now start talking about what has happened to me.

One of the biggest things ignored by the military is the spiritual component. Something to help mend your soul. Because we get these soul wounds and they burn deep. It helps to talk about it, and have communication with other veterans and help each other out. Don’t be in denial. Don’t try and go at it alone. I know we’re taught to suck it up and be strong… but sometimes we need a battle buddy to carry you through. Don’t be afraid to reach out. There’s hope. There is hope in Christ.