From Frank Whitman, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas Public Affairs Office
SANTA RITA, Guam (NNS) -- After 17 years of serving the nation in locations that span the globe, self-help Seabee Petty Officer First Class Eric Gonzalez became Chief Utilitiesman Eric Gonzalez during a pinning ceremony on Naval Base Guam, Sept. 14.
As he begins this new chapter in his Navy career, Gonzalez gives credit for his success to his mentors, his persistence and leadership style that benefits the Sailors under his charge.
Gonzalez, who is of Hispanic descent, grew up in Los Angeles County and graduated from high school in Baldwin Park, California. He joined the Navy in 2001 in order to provide his young family – his wife and daughter – with the financial stability that he felt he was not likely to achieve with the construction job he had at the time.
When he joined the Navy, he originally planned to be an aviation electronics technician, but his plans changed and he decided to become a utilitiesman. He graduated from “A” school at the top of his class. “I was an honors grad and got meritoriously promoted to E-4,” he said.
He was then assigned for five years to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 40 in Port Hueneme, California. His first deployment during that time was for four months to Guam where he did barracks maintenance at Camp Covington. “Our job was to go out and fix stuff,” he said. “Leaky faucets, toilets, showers, anything that had to do with plumbing.”
While with NMCB 40, he was also deployed to Chinhae, Korea; Diego Garcia and again to Guam. Then Gonzalez was accepted to Naval Support Unit State Department and, after training in Arlington, Virginia, was deployed to Malta. He was then assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Helsinki for two and a half years, and while there, provided support to the American embassies in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. “I was an electrician,” he said. I installed and fixed all security components of the embassies – locks, sensors, cameras, barriers, X-ray machines, metal detectors. Anything they used for security, I fixed it and I installed it.”
His next assignments were to Spain for three years, El Salvador for a year and back to San Diego for three years with Amphibious Construction Battalion (ACB) 1. The ACB assignment was followed by his current assignment which began Dec. 7, 2017.
According to Gonzalez, it is “hard to impossible” for a utilitiesman to be promoted to Chief. He attributed his success to “never giving up” and to demonstrating effective leadership. “The success of my sailors is what makes me successful,” he said.
While taking part in the annual Pacific Partnership humanitarian deployments in 2015 and 2017, he was assigned to take charge of a project, a responsibility usually reserved for Seabees rated as builders or steelworkers. “We finished the project,” he said. “We came back safe. We got people promoted and got people qualified. I made sure I was training the sailors under me and developing them.”
A successful Chief Petty Officer “doesn’t have ‘no’ in their vocabulary,” Gonzalez said. “Like if somebody asks me, ‘Can you help me with this?’ or ‘What do you think about this?’ I would not say ‘no’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ I would help them out as much as I could. If I don’t have the answer, I would say, ‘Let me get back to you.’ Then I would go and find the answer.”
Gonzalez also acknowledged the positive impact of two mentors during his time with ACB 1. “Senior Chief Anthony Cardona pushed me to do the things that I didn’t want to do,” he said. “He really opened my eyes to the things that I could accomplish, but that I didn’t know that I could do. He saw it in me.”
Gonzalez shared a daily 70-mile commute with a second significant mentor, now-retired Master Chief Eric Wilson. “So I spent about three hours speaking to a Master Chief every single day, just picking his brain,” Gonzalez said. “He was pretty straightforward with me without just giving me the answers I was looking for. He was a great mentor in my life.”
Coincidentally, Gonzalez was pinned one day before the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, which he appreciates as an important time for building awareness of Hispanic cultures and celebrating the contributions of Hispanic service members to the Navy and to the nation.
“Hispanic Heritage Month really brings awareness to our nationality and our culture which a lot of people don’t really know or understand,” he said. “Diversity is huge in the military; you find different cultures everywhere. Everybody has different aspects from the way they grew up and brings different strengths and abilities. It makes the Navy stronger.”
Looking to the future, Gonzalez said he will defer to his wife’s wishes about whether to remain in the Navy. “I want her to pursue her career or whatever she wants to do in life.” Meanwhile, he is preparing for a post-Navy life as he is just four courses shy of a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management from Southern New Hampshire University.