MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
At the Wounded Warrior Battalion –West at Camp Pendleton, everybody knows the name “Sgt. G.”
Sgt. George Gaona is one of three drivers who are always on call to transport Marines attached to the WWB-W on board Camp Pendleton to and from any medical appointments at medical facilities all along the southern Californian coastline.
“It’s pretty nice since I don’t have a vehicle,” said Lance Cpl. Casey Swing, a linguist from Jacksonville, Fla., riding comfortably in the back of the government vehicle Sgt. G picks him up in.
“At Wounded Warrior Battalion, your whole job is to get better, and this is part of it. It’s easier than trying to find rides from people,” Swing smiles appreciatively.
Swing has no movement in his right arm due to an especially unique injury that requires him to travel to Balboa Naval Medical Hospital upwards of three times a week.
Sgt. G plays a special role in not only Swing’s, but many Marines’ healing process.
“I drive all over. Wherever a Marine needs to go, we get them there,” said the La Puente, Calif., native. “I think the most hours I’ve logged driving was fourteen hours straight.”
Transportation is one of the many services offered by the battalion, and Sgt. G takes his job at the battalion personally. He is committed to helping others after a painful injury forced him to leave his original job in the infantry.
“I wanted to be a part of Wounded Warriors because I’ve had the experience of not being taken care of properly and I don’t want anyone to have to go through that,” Gaona explained. “In my eyes, as long as I am here helping them I’m doing a good thing,”
While conducting a mission during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, Gaona suffered a lower back injury.
“I remember when I first felt the pain, we were doing a raid and I felt this sharp pain in my back. There wasn’t anything I could do at the time, so I just sucked it up and pushed through until it was over,” Gaona recalled. “The pain was still there months later after the deployment.”
Gaona was treated for his injury but doctors claimed it was not a serious injury and assured him the throbbing sensation would subside eventually.
“The hardest part of the injury for me was the fact that I couldn’t hold my baby without feeling a sting.”
“The doctors told me that it would heal on its own but after a while it got to the point where I couldn’t stand or sit without pain,” Gaona said. “After looking into it further, they told me I had a bulging and compressed disk in my lower back.”
After receiving the proper care, Sgt. G was cleared to go back to his original unit and be put back on full duty; however, Sgt. Gaona opted to stay on with the WWB-W.
“It is rewarding to come out here and do something for others,” Gaona said. “I feel like I can relate to a lot of these guys – I know what they are going through.”
Spending so much time on the road gives him ample time to get to know the Marines and pass on knowledge he’s gained through his own experience.
“A lot of these guys are lacking a lot of hope at this point and since we spend so much time together, I can give them what every little bit of inspiration that I can,” said Gaona.
At WWB-W, Marines are given a place to live with other Marines in similar situations – injured in combat or during training, or suffering from unique physical ailments that prevent them from doing their everyday military occupational specialties.
Their main focus at the WWB-W is to focus on getting well; physical activities, counseling sessions and special events are hosted daily.
“His level of professionalism is much higher than most sergeants I’ve worked with,” said Maj. Brian Taylor, the officer in charge of the S-4, the office responsible for the transportation of Marines attached to the WWB-W.
“[His dedication] is essential for the job that he fills.”
Sgt. G’s driven more than 17,000 miles for his fellow Marines just this year and has no plan on stopping anytime soon.