As the New Jersey Devils battled the Arizona Coyotes in their first duel of the season against a Western Conference opponent, the team recognized Sergeant First Class Danny Gonzalez as its Hero of the Game. In addition to his service with the New Jersey Army National Guard, Gonzalez also serves his community as a police officer in Perth Amboy.
Gonzalez, 36, joined the military in 2003, opting for the guard because it would offer him the ability to balance his involvement with his community with his desire to serve his country. “From when I was a young child, I always wanted to be in the military, and serve as a police officer,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez credited the movie “Full Metal Jacket,” which he first saw when he was 13 years old, as his inspiration.
After going through infantry school in Fort Benning, Georgia, Gonzalez briefly returned to New Jersey before being deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, he focused on detainee operations and providing perimeter security for the base.
A year later, after Gonzalez returned in 2005, he transitioned into recruitment, helping the New Jersey Army National Guard find new service-inclined individuals. Following two years as a full-time recruiter, Gonzalez returned to the reserves and took on the new role as a police officer with the Perth Amboy police.
Gonzalez resumed active duty in June 2008, when he was deployed to Iraq for a year. “I was a Staff Sergeant at the time, in charge of a group and we ran the prison security.”
Much more recently, Gonzalez deployed to Qatar in June 2014, and only returned to New Jersey about six months ago in April 2015. A Platoon Sergeant at the time, Gonzalez oversaw a unit of 40 troops responsible for base security and “quick reaction force” services.
Tonight was Gonzalez’ fourth Devils game, but he said he was hooked after his first game. “I’m not really too into sports…but I love coming to Devils games.” At his first game, as part of Military Appreciation night, Gonzalez watched his sergeant repel from the ceiling. “I was spoiled at that first game.” Gonzalez recently brought his wife to her first game, attending the Devils’ final preseason game as they faced the Philadelphia Flyers on October 2nd.
Gonzalez said he tries to avoid drawing attention to himself, but appreciated the recognition at the game tonight. “Sometimes it feels better to see someone else get recognized, but whether it’s me or someone else, it’s great to see military service members getting recognized.”