HARLINGEN — Being part of the great team.

That’s what U.S. Army Master Sgt. Juan Gonzales values most about his 20 years on active duty, and why he still wears the uniform as Harlingen High School’s JROTC instructor.

“I served in Korea, Italy, Egypt, Panama,” he said. “The Army helped me get my master’s degree in business administration. It taught me leadership. What I learned I took into the ROTC to help students.”

Gonzales has been the Harlingen High School’s JROTC instructor since 2011. During that time he’s tried to offer direction to hundreds of young men and women. And it wasn’t about encouraging them to go into the military, it was about securing their success.

“I try to inspire students to keep on going and do well in school, to have the discipline to make the right decision because it’s a tough world out there,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales, a San Benito native, had originally planned to attend the University of North Texas at Denton after high school. However, his mother had a talk with him about the military.

“My mother told me to go ahead and join to get more leadership and more maturity,” he remembered. “She sat down with me and talked to me about going into the military and I guess what kinds of benefits they could give me.”

Apparently, a cousin close to his mother had done very well in the military, and Gonzales’s mother wanted the same for her son.

He took her advice and joined the Army in 1985. He attended finance and accounting school at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and then airborne training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He then spent most of his Army career attached to the 82nd Airborne Division in Ft. Bragg, N. Carolina.

As a member of the finance and accounting department, he was responsible for attending to the financial needs of soldiers, to include getting paid.

“It’s mainly like working in a bank for the military in the accounting field, taking care of the payroll for the military at the 82nd Airborne,” Gonzales said.

Such was also the case when he was deployed to Egypt for a training exercise.

“I was in Egypt in ‘94, I believe,” he said. “I was there to take care of the finances for the 82nd Airborne. We had to go in and get Egyptian currency at the banks so our soldiers could go in and buy things.”

In his down time he was able to travel to Jerusalem and visit the holy sites there, and he learned to scuba dive in the Red Sea.

“We could see all the fish out there,” he said. “It was spoken of in the Bible, so that was pretty exciting.”

Such experiences are the stuff of novels and stories to share with others, the kind that keep young people spellbound and excited about their futures. Such is a shining incentive to join the military, a way to get started in life while carrying out a vital mission: defense of the United States.

“Any military is a good choice for someone that might not know what they want to do with their life,” Gonzales said. “It’s a good first step to become more mature, either stay in 20 years and retire or to get the benefits so you can go to college after you transition out.”

MORE INFO

Master Sgt. Juan Gonzales, retired

BRANCH: Army

OCCUPATION: JROTC instructor at Harlingen High School

FAMILY: He and his wife Cindy have two daughters, Nikki and Sophia

MILITARY CAREER

1985 – 2002 – United States Army Finance Command, Fort Bragg, North Carolina

2002 – 2004 – U.S. Army Area Recruiting Director, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Rio Grande Valley, Texas

2004 – 2006 – University of Texas – Pan American SROTC College Recruiter, in Edinburg

2006 – 2007 – College Advisor/Recruiter at High Tech Institute/Anthem College, Phoenix, Arizona

2007 – 2011 – JROTC senior Army instructor at Hidalgo Early College High School

2011 – present – JROTC Army instructor at Harlingen High School

EDUCATION

DBA, Business Administration, North Central University – Active

MBA, Business Administration, Grantham University – 2013

BA Multi-Disciplinary Studies, Grantham University – 2009

AA Associates in Science, Excelsior College – 2008