CAMP SCHWAB, OKINAWA, Japan -- Over the past 13 years, the American Legion has awarded an enlisted service member from each branch of the armed services with the Spirit of Service Award. The award honors those who excel at their profession and volunteer off duty to serve others within their communities.
This year, the American Legion selected Cpl. Ricardo Gonzalez, a Marine Air-Ground Task Force planning specialist with Headquarters Company, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force, to represent the Marine Corps at a national convention August 26 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It was a really humbling experience,” said Gonzalez, a San Jose, California, native. “As a Single Marine Program Representative, I was going to talk to the Camp Schwab sergeant major about the quality of life here when he told me: ‘Congratulations.’ Not understanding, I said ‘Thank you, but what for?’ He explained to me that I had earned the Spirit of Service Award and I had no idea what to say.”
Gonzalez volunteers his time to helping at the USO, participating in fence and beach cleanups, teaching English language classes for children, and arranging transportation for the Marines at Camp Schwab to volunteer at the Special Olympics taking place at Kadena Air Base.
“He’s always using initiative,” said Lt. Col. Devin O. Licklider, the acting executive officer for 4th Marines. “He goes above and beyond, not out of recognition for himself, but out of a genuine drive to better the community and himself with a true enjoyment of (improving community) relations and helping people.”
Gonzalez moved to the U.S. from Costa Rica at the age of three, earning his U.S. citizenship at 13. During high school, he was a volunteer tutor throughout his sophomore year, attended a local community college while in high school, and graduated at 17 years old; a year earlier than his peers.
Gonzalez demonstrated the qualities of hard work and initiative learned as a young man soon after arriving on Okinawa, according to Capt. Matthew A. Krempel, a future operations planner with 4th Marines.
“Immediately when I met him, I could tell he had a maturity far above his peer group,” said Krempel, a Woodridge, Illinois, native. “He’s always coming in on the weekends to get things done. Late at night when I come in to catch up on work, he’s always here. He has that mentality of getting the mission done.”
Taking it a step further, Gonzalez started a volunteer program for the regiment, so that other Marines could get more involved with the community.
Between volunteering and pushing himself professionally, Gonzalez has truly earned the Spirit of Service Award, according to Licklider, a Kutztown, Pennsylvania, native.
“If I can influence other people to do well and do good for others, I feel a sense of accomplishment,” said Gonzalez. “It gives me a good sense of purpose and direction, plus it’s a lot of fun.”
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