Walking the walk, Talking the talk
By Cpl. Shawn M. Toussaint
| | July 19, 2002
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
A teacher's effectiveness can be measured in their ability to communicate with their students. In the Marine Corps, drill instructors must possess the ability to communicate with recruits to ensure that they are properly trained. Mastery of verbal and non-verbal communication techniques is required to be able to teach such a broad range of individuals, including those who speak little or no English.
Sergeant Oscar M. Gonzales, drill instructor, Platoon 2073, Co. F, is an example of how drill instructors can overcome language and cultural barriers, making them some of the world's most effective teachers.
Gonzales is a native of Lima, Peru, who moved to Miami with his brother Andres in July 1993 to live with their father, Oscar Gonzales Sr. The move to the United States was tough for the 18-year-old who spoke little English.
"'How do you say' was the first phrase I learned," said Gonzales. "I was always pointing at things and asking how do you say that. I learned to be very curious. I had to, to survive."
After three months in Miami, the young man went to Job Corps in Kentucky. The program would provide Gonzales the opportunity to travel around the United States working several different jobs.
"I learned a lot working at Job Corps," said Gonzales. "It was like a school for me. I worked as a forest firefighter for six months in Idaho, and I worked as carpenter and a painter."
While working at Job Corps, Gonzales' English skills gradually improved. He would use these newly acquired English skills to speak to a "sharply dressed" man in blue. That man was a never to-be-forgotten Marine recruiter. Gonzales had decided to become a member of the United States Marine Corps.
"My brother thought I was crazy," said Gonzales. "Many of my friends thought I could not make it."
Making it was not a question for the highly motivated recruit who joined the Marines to become one of the best. While self-doubt wasn't a problem for Gonzales, going from traveling carpenter to Marine wasn't a walk in the park either.
"It (boot camp) was like a new world," said Gonzales. "I had to learn how to speak in Marine terms as well as English. Every day was a new challenge."
Gonzales' drill instructors guided him through boot camp and left a lasting impression on him that guided his career as a Marine.
"I wanted to be like them," said Gonzales. "I knew I wanted to be a drill instructor."
Gonzales knew that only the best are chosen to become Marines, so he used his I-want-to-know-this attitude at diesel mechanic's school, where he was promoted meritoriously to lance corporal for graduating at the top of his class. The curiosity that helped him learn the English language paid off during his Marine Corps training.
Gonzales would then take his skills as a Marine out in the Fleet Marine Forces and earn a recommendation to attend Drill Instructor's School as part of his reenlistment option.
At Drill Instructor's School, Gonzales would again graduate at the top of the class.
"I just did what I was told," said Gonzales about his achievement.
Gonzales was then assigned to be a drill instructor in Co. F., something he claims has been an enriching experience in his life.
"I feel lucky to be a part of Fox Company," said Gonzales. "I have learned a lot from the drill instructors I've worked with. My entire career I've been assigned to good units and have had outstanding mentors. Fox Company is a continuation of that trend."
Gonzales is viewed by many of his peers to be a valuable asset to the company. His ability to communicate with and teach recruits has been noted by his superiors as outstanding.
"His attention to detail and willingness to accept nothing less than 100 percent from recruits is what makes him a great drill instructor," said Staff Sgt. Peter W. Ferrel, senior drill instructor, Platoon 2073, Co. F. "He is the reason for this platoon's success."
Gonzales is an extremely hard worker and is dedicated to creating the best possible Marine he can, according to Staff Sgt. Jeffery C. Marston, senior drill instructor, Platoon 2079, Co. F.
Gonzales has a powerful voice that commands attention from those around him, and he uses it to enhance his teaching skills. His experiences, both before and after joining the Corps, give him a perspective that allows him to be effective in teaching recruits every thing they must know to complete training.
"I enjoy making things easy for people to understand," said the drill instructor who aspires to be a teacher someday. "Every cycle we get recruits that were just like I was (recruits who speak little or no English). I am able to help them, but I do it in such a way that it helps the whole platoon, without making it seem like I am giving them special attention."
Gonzales achieves this by using his body and facial expressions to communicate as well as his voice.
"I speak with my hands just as much as I speak with my mouth," said Gonzales while waving his hands in front of his face.
The sergeant, who became a United States citizen, is proud to have been given the opportunity to give back to the country and service that have given him the chance "to make a life."
"I owe a lot to Corps and country," said Gonzales.