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U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ezequiel E. Gonzalez, a percussionist with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) Band, poses for a photo at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, Dec. 22, 2022. 2nd MAW is the aviation combat element of II Marine Expeditionary Force. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Elias E. Pimentel III)

Photo by Lance Cpl. Elias Pimentel

Giving Back to His Nation: Cpl. Ezequiel E. Gonzalez

20 Jan 2023 | Lance Cpl. Elias Pimentel Marines Music

For U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ezequiel E. Gonzalez, a percussionist with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) Band, being a first-generation American citizen brought adversity that set a precedence of hard work and determination. Positive influences on his early life set the tone for the legacy he wanted to leave behind in his Marine Corps career.

“Both of my parents were immigrants from Panama,” said Gonzalez. “There were some challenges growing up. I had to learn English in school because Spanish was my first language.”

With a majority of their family members living in Panama, Gonzalez’s family found their new home in Bronx, New York. Chasing the American dream, Gonzalez’s parents worked in fast food and customer service. They wanted to create a stable foundation for their family.

“My family had to work really hard to get to the point they're at now,” said Gonzalez. “It's been really inspiring to know that my parents did all this for me to have a better future and education. Setting others up for success is something I want to pass on.”

Gonzalez lived with his grandfather, retired U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Carmelo Santos, a Gulf War veteran and Purple Heart recipient.

“My grandfather was a really big inspiration for me,” said Gonzalez. “One of his important pillars was service, so I was raised and grew up around people who did acts of service for others.”

Santos worked in different military occupations before joining the Army band as a saxophonist.

“My grandfather is the only other person in my family that I've known to play an instrument,” said Gonzalez. “We would listen to Mozart in the car and that got me into music. I knew that music was something I would have a passion for and something I really wanted to do in my life.”

When Gonzalez started middle school, he wanted to play piano in the school’s band. However, the school he attended did not have a piano available, so he decided to become a percussionist.

“When I started as a percussionist, I didn't really play a whole lot on a drum set,” said Gonzalez. “My grandfather bought me a drum kit for my 10th birthday. From then on, I'd just be in the basement, wailing away. They were very simple grooves, but that was the beginning of where I am now.”

Gonzalez’s passion for music followed him to high school, but he was unsure about his future following graduation. That changed when Gonzalez met a Marine for the first time.

“My first experience with a Marine was my recruiter,” said Gonzalez. “In New York, there's not a whole lot of military presence besides the Army at Fort Drum.”

The recruiter had an impactful first impression on Gonzalez, most notably the uniform that set the recruiter apart from the other services.

“When I first met my recruiter, I saw him in dress blues,” said Gonzalez. “I wanted to be like that guy. I never thought about the military beforehand. As soon as he explained everything that comes with serving, I had a gut feeling that this is what I wanted to be.”

Gonzalez made the decision to enlist in the Marine Corps shortly after meeting the recruiter. Gonzalez performed well on his aptitude test and was eligible for any occupation of his choosing.

“At first, I wanted something that I could apply outside of the Marine Corps,” said Gonzalez. “Back then, I didn’t really think I would be in the Marine Corps for much longer than four years.”

Anticipating a short enlistment, Gonzalez originally opted to become an aviation maintainer. However, this changed when his recruiter discovered that Gonzalez had a musical background.

“One day, my recruiter asked if I could come into the recruiting office,” said Gonzalez. “I told him that I couldn’t because I have a marching band competition. He said that there may be a spot open for the Marine Corps band. I didn't even know the Marine Corps had a band. I mean, my grandfather was in the Army band, but I don't know all branches did that.”

Gonzalez then switched his military occupation of choice after finding out about the band opportunities. He auditioned for the band and was accepted. After his admission into the music enlisted option program, Gonzalez went to recruit training and earned the title of Marine. Gonzalez then completed combat training at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and his six-month musician course in Norfolk, Virginia. Following graduation, he received his orders to his first and current duty station, 2nd MAW at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.

“I came to Cherry Point in June of 2021,” said Gonzalez. “Driving down here, I passed a lot of trees and a whole lot of nothing. When I reached the small town of Havelock, I thought to myself, okay, there's some civilization, but where is the rest of it?”

North Carolina was very different from the life he was used to growing up.

“I was used to that city life,” said Gonzalez. “Coming down here where there's like a lot more countryside was a culture shock at first. It’s something I've since gotten used to. I sometimes like the quietness of Eastern North Carolina.”

Gonzalez has had the opportunity to travel to perform at events since joining the 2nd MAW Band. Most notably, Gonzalez traveled throughout the East Coast and to New Orleans, Louisiana, for Mardi Gras. His most memorable trip was back to his hometown.

“I went to Fleet Week earlier this year in New York City," said Gonzalez. “My family was able to come see me perform in Times Square and that was a really special moment. It was surreal.”

Fleet Week was a city-wide event celebrating the nation’s maritime services while providing an opportunity for the citizens of New York City and the surrounding tri-state area to meet Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen.

“Being in Times Square, where there's thousands of people just walking by and knowing that this was the first time they've seen Marines, was crazy,” said Gonzalez. “That gave me a big sense of importance and really solidified the fact that it's not just about the individual, it's about a team. We're all representing the entire Marine Corps here.”

That pride carried over into his work. Shortly thereafter, Gonzalez found himself taking more responsibility in the workplace. Gonzalez became the leader of the percussion section over the summer.

“Leading Marines wasn't easy at first, but I found that it’s one of the things I enjoy,” said Gonzalez. “I love mentoring Marines, coaching Marines, helping them out, and figuring out what they need to succeed. Overall, I want to let them know that I’m here for them. If they need me, they can count on me.”

Gonzalez made the decision to reenlist at the end of his current contract to keep leading Marines. Gonzalez hopes to transfer to the band at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

“My plan when I reenlist is to request going to the Parris Island band to see what it's like there before putting in a package to become a drill instructor,” said Gonzalez. “Drill instructors always demonstrate excellence. It’s a very difficult job and when I retire from the Marine Corps, I want to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I was a drill instructor. I taught recruits and led people who were once civilians into becoming Marines.’ Leading that future generation is really cool to me.”

Above all, Gonzalez wishes to instill pride in the Marines under his charge.

“I just want people to enjoy their time as a Marine,” said Gonzalez. “We all wanted to be Marines, and I think it's important to keep that vision in mind. I want people to say, ‘I'm a Marine and proud. This is a legacy that I'm going to have forever.’”

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