Once a Marine, always a Marine
by Mackey Torres
Aug 21, 2014 | 2594 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Master Sgt. Jose “Bumper” Gomez and his wife, Maria, celebrate his retirement at a ceremony on Aug. 8 in San Antonio.
Master Sgt. Jose “Bumper” Gomez and his wife, Maria, celebrate his retirement at a ceremony on Aug. 8 in San Antonio.
Master Sgt. Jose “Bumper” Gomez with Ollie North in Iraq in 2003, prior to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Master Sgt. Jose “Bumper” Gomez with Ollie North in Iraq in 2003, prior to the capture of Saddam Hussein.
Master Sgt. Jose “Bumper” Gomez and his family following his retirement ceremony on Aug. 8.
Master Sgt. Jose “Bumper” Gomez and his family following his retirement ceremony on Aug. 8.
Just over 20 years ago, Jose “Bumper” Gomez was a senior in high school. While others were set on where the next chapter of their lives would lead them, Bumper wasn’t so sure at the time.

Then, he saw his best friend talking to a recruiter from the Marine Corps.

“I had no clue what the Marine Corps was about,” Bumper said. I really didn’t know what I was going to do.”

He saw the recruiter again, and in just three weeks, he knew where his next chapter would take place.

Bumper’s mother, Lupita Cano, then got a knock on the door.

“(The recruiter) just came to the house, and that’s when I knew that he was going to the Marines, that I can remember,” Cano said. “That just surprised me, ‘Where did this come from?’ And that’s when he signed up. It broke my heart.”

What came as a shock to Bumper’s entire family was a new challenge for him.

“I was scared of the unknown,” Bumper said, “but I was just ready to try something new.”

The unknown that Bumper spoke of was what worried his family the most.

“The first two weeks that he left, I used to sleep with his shirt under my pillow and cry,” Cano said. “I would cry every night.”

Leaving for the Marines

On Dec. 28, 1994, he entered Recruit Training in San Diego, and graduated on March 17, 1995.

He then began his ascension in the ranks. By Aug. 1, 1995, Bumper was assigned to HQBN 3rd Marine Division, Communication Company Okinawa, Japan.

“When I got stationed in Okinawa, it was a whole lot different,” Bumper said. “Being away from the United States, and, on top of that, absorbing the new culture, was pretty cool. You’re missing home, but it’s cool starting something else.”

From Okinawa, over the years, his travels took him to Korea, Jacksonville, N.C., and Tampa, Fla.

With his travels came his continued ascension in rank. But to Bumper, he wasn’t doing anything different.

“I’m no crazy, gung-ho guy. All I ever did, to be honest with you, whatever the Marine Corps asked me to do, I always did it,” Bumper said. “Whatever it was, I did everything that I could to the best of my ability; the way I would want somebody to do it for me if I was having somebody do whatever they needed me to do.

“That comes from Beeville and working.”

Going to Iraq

In 2003, now a staff sergeant reporting to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, Bumper was set to face his toughest task yet: being deployed to Iraq for the initial push.

“Iraq, the first time, you really think about what’s going on every day,” Bumper said. “You think about your family and what you’re missing and stuff and that kind of gives you the drive, like ‘I gotta get through this day.’”

Bumper was there from January 2003 until September-October that same year.

Just like his announcement of joining the Marine Corps, his deployment once again put his mother into a state of shock and worry.

“Here we are at home and you cover your kids at nighttime,” Cano said. “Those are things that I thought about when he was over there. One time he called, ‘Mom, it’s so cold.’ How could I go over there and cover him? I couldn’t.

“I couldn’t.”

By the time he got back, the time he could spend with his family was the greatest gift to him.

“My wife and kids, you get to hold them and tell them you love them face to face, not over the phone, not through a letter,” Bumper said.

Brief stay home

While Bumper was able to stay at home for 10 months, he was still going through training as well. Certain prerequisites needed to be crossed off before he was deployed again.

While he may have been home, he was still training, seeing his house in the distance, for the next deployment.

“In the eight months, nine months you’re home with your family, you’re actually only physically home three months, four months,” Bumper said. “That’s the part that people don’t see. They don’t see us going to the field two or three weeks at a time just to go. ‘Hey, we’re not coming home for three weeks.’ ‘Why?’ “Because we got to train.’

Back to Iraq

Following the 10-month stay home after the initial push, he found himself back in Iraq.

“I was back in Iraq again, in the heart of the fight,” Bumper said. “That time, I would say, was probably the roughest eight months of my Marine Corps career. It was some serious fighting going on.”

From July 2004 to March 2005, Bumper experienced the most grueling stage of his Marine Corps career.

“During the fighting in Ramadi, basically the capital city of the Al Anbar province, which holds Fallujah to Crete, all of the bad places, we did some heavy fighting there,” Bumper said. “By the grace of God, I made it home to my family once again.”

Making it home in one piece was all he and his family could ever ask for.

“He said he just couldn’t wait to touch the ground,” said his sister Marissa Gomez. “Six deployments and he came back in one piece.”

Texas bound

Following completion of deployment, his ascension continued, and by December 2011, he was named operations chief for the detachment at the San Antonio Military Medical Center. He was able to experience working with Wounded Warriors.

It was the most rewarding experience of his whole career.

“You’re looking at a 20- to 21-year-old kid staring at you in the face, telling you, ‘Hey, man, can you take time out of your day to come watch me take my first steps?’” Bumper said. “‘My last injury (was) in Afghanistan, where I lost both of my legs.’ To see them put their prosthetics on and see their face, and see the joy, see the pain and all that, and to see them take their first steps...

“There’s no feeling like it.”

Motivating his fellow brothers and watching them strive to take their steps was an unbelievable feeling for him.

“He changed a lot of those guys’ lives,” Cano said.

Closing the chapter

On Aug. 8, after giving his life to the Marine Corps for more than 20 years, he officially announced his retirement, in a service held in San Antonio.

“I turned around to see all these people that were there,” Cano said. “My son had touched their lives, over these 20 years. That was very touching to me.”

The loving support of his family drove him each and every day, especially from his wife of 14 years, Maria, who will be seeing him much more often now.

“My wife has taken the brunt of all my deployments,” Bumper said. “She held the fort down with six, sometimes seven kids at home and having a full-time job. That’s the hard part. That’s the part people don’t see.

“I give my wife all the respect in the world.”

The worrying has finally gone away.

“We’re just glad to have him back and not worry about deployments,” Marissa said. “With everything that’s going on right now, it’s just a scary thought. I’m glad that he’s done his part; he’s served our country and made sacrifices.”

Now, he’s looking for an oil field job in San Antonio, where he continues to live.

That chapter has officially closed. Bumper Gomez is now Master Sgt. Gomez.

“I still can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” his mother said. “When we went to the retirement, I said, ‘I remember as if it were yesterday me and my father dropping you off, and here I’m coming today to see you celebrate your 20 years of service.’ It was just so fast.

“Well, now it’s fast.”

Mackey Torres is the regional editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 343-5219, or at regional@mySouTex.com.
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