By Army Staff Sgt. Robert DeDeaux
U.S. Division North
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.
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.”