Chaplain assistant follows the voice of God

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- When one thinks of a security forces member, images of a weapon toting, straight-to-the point Airman who only talks when pulling someone over may come to mind.

Staff Sgt. Isela Gonzalez, 99th Air Base Wing chaplain assistant, decided security forces was not her calling, but instead, it was to serve God.

"I believe I was gifted to be able to speak and to help people, so I'm going to follow that calling," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez, who has been in the Air Force for seven-and-a-half years, first joined the Air Force as a security forces member and has been assigned to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England and Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, before cross-training to the chaplain assistant career field.

During her time as a security forces member, Gonzalez earned associate degrees in criminal justice and social services, a bachelor's degree in sports medicine, and is now enrolled in a master's degree program for divinity.

"Right now I'm working on my masters in divinity to be a chaplain someday," Gonzalez said. "It's not so much that I wanted to be a chaplain assistant, I believe that I am called to work at the chapel. I believe there are a few people that are called to do this, but I believe I was one of them."

Gonzalez recently deployed to Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar for her first time as a chaplain assistant and calls the experience a blessing for what she was able to do there.

"It was challenging, it was pretty awesome, but hard at the same time," Gonzalez said. "When people find out that you're a chaplain assistant they usually walk the other way, but they will come to you. That's what's so awesome about the job is that we get to build rapport with people so we can be someone's first resort."

While deployed, Chaplain (Maj.) Daniel Forman, 21st Space Wing, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, said he enjoyed having Gonzalez work alongside him.

"I, like all others, had good and bad days with keeping a positive attitude on my deployment to Al Udeid. Yes, even as a chaplain, there were times when I wished I was somewhere else," Forman said. "However, I had a great resource that offered me daily reminders of joy when I was down, and helped me keep my professional and spiritual resiliency at optimal levels. That resource was my fellow religious support team member, Staff Sgt. Isela Gonzalez."

For Gonzalez's actions at Nellis AFB and Al Udeid AB, she was recently selected as a Wetzel Award winner. The Wetzel Award recognizes Airmen each quarter for their exceptional efforts toward the Air Force mission and those who exhibit the highest standards of professionalism beyond their normal work load.

"I think that winning the Weztel Award was pretty awesome because I got to tell the civilian world what chaplain assistants do and how we affect the military," Gonzalez said. "I got to tell my story and anytime I get to tell how Afghanistan changed everything down range and my life, I think it's a blessing and I think it's awesome."