Posted on April 21, 2016
Born and raised in the Philippines, Hubert Gonzales didn’t have many hobbies. His parents were farmers, so he helped work the land. Along the way, he heard lots of stories about World War II.
“These stories made me interested in history,” he says, “and about becoming a warrior and serving my country.”
Hubert moved to San Diego as a teenager and spent two years in the Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. He enlisted in the Corps after graduating from Sweetwater High School in 2005.
Before long (in 2006 and 2007), Hubert found himself in Iraq with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 15th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit). A year later, he deployed to Okinawa, Japan, and other locations in Southeast Asia. In 2009 and 2010, he found himself in the Middle East.
Then, in 2011, his fourth deployment (with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines) took him to Sangin, Afghanistan—where his life would take an unexpected turn.
“Around 0800 on March 31, 2011, we were conducting a dismounted patrol,” Hubert recalls. “Three hours into the patrol, about 300 meters away from our patrol base, we were in an alley. I was the 8th man in a single file.”
“We came up to this spot with three craters where the previous unit had found IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and that the EOD (explosive ordnance disposal] team had cleared,” he continues. “We were moving really slow and cautious. I stopped for a second looking at the ground for any sign of IEDs and saw no indications of any.”
“When I took a step, I heard an explosion and saw the Marine in front of me startled,” Hubert continues. “I didn’t realize that I stepped on a pressure plate; I thought it was the Marine behind me who had. That’s when I got scared; I thought I just lost one of my Marines. While I was on that thought, I was already falling to my left side. Dirt was falling on me. The Marine who was in front of me asked if I was okay, and I couldn’t answer because I started feeling pain in my left leg. After he helped me sit up, I saw my left foot still intact, but there was so much pain. I looked around trying to figure out what happened. That’s when I saw the other half of the container next to me with homemade explosive still in and around it, still smoking.”
Hubert was evacuated by helicopter and taken to his battalion’s forward operating base, where he was diagnosed with a fractured ankle. He continued on to Camp Bastion, the Ministry of Defense Airbase located northwest of Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, to get an X-ray and MRI done.
“While I was being transported, I was thinking, ‘It’s only a fractured ankle, I’ll be back in the fight soon and be with my Marines.”
After getting the MRI and speaking with the doctor, Hubert was sent back to the States for surgery to repair his shattered heel bone. He felt lucky to be alive, but unlucky at the same time—he wanted to be back in the fight.
Hubert’s heel bone and ankle were cared for at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Seven months later he had his subtalar joint fused, then six months after that he had another surgery. Additional surgeries included May 2013 work on his subtalar and an April 2014 surgery on his left shoulder (it was dislocated during the IED blast).
The Semper Fi Fund reached out to Hubert while he was dealing with his medical issues in San Diego. We provided him with assistance to help pay for travel to and from his medical appointments (“I was driving 200-plus miles a week,” he recalls). We also gave him a grant to purchase a road bike to help him with his recovery.
After many months of pain and an inability to do much with his left leg, Hubert made the difficult decision in January 2015 to have the leg amputated below the knee. Again, the Semper Fi Fund was there, providing a grant so Hubert could get a better wheelchair.
“My recovery has been a long road, from my limb salvage to my amputation,” Hubert says. “The decision to amputate was a well thought-out decision, but it didn’t prepare me for the length or the struggles of my recovery.”
“The most surprising thing about my experience as an amputee,” he continues, “has been the amount of time it takes me to get ready or do things. I can no longer be on the go or just get up in the morning and rush. It takes considerably longer to get my prosthetic on and get ready for my day. What were once simple tasks I now either cannot do or they take much more time and effort.”
Hubert is currently undergoing physical therapy, and he looks forward to getting back in shape and getting back to running. He’s also focused on making a transition into law
enforcement or becoming a business owner. Through it all, he remains philosophical as the result of his near-death experience with an IED.
“Life is short,” he says. “I need to live in the here and now, because you don’t know when your time is up.”