"There's mixed emotions," said the 38-year-old Hayward man. "I'm excited, I'm a little nervous, but this will be a good experience. We'll be training Iraqis to get them more independent so they can stabilize their country."
Gonzalez was one of 300 soldiers who participated in a formal sendoff ceremony at Camp Parks on Saturday, providing a last chance to say goodbye to families before shipping out today to Fort Riley, Kan.
After three months of training there, members of the 104th U.S. Army Division will leave for a one-year tour in Iraq as a part of "Task Force Desert Wolf."
The deployment is not part of President Bush's recent announcement to add 21,500 U.S. troops to the region. Still, the soldiers are leaving Camp Parks at a time when polls show a majority of U.S. citizens decry the president's handling of the war.
"We don't feel the pressure of eroding American support," said Col. Blair Alexander, task force commander. "We focus on what's in front of us. We'll leave those (strategy) discussions to the politicians."
That was a sentiment shared by Staff Sgt. Angelo Carvalho of North Las Vegas, Nev. "I think the public has misunderstood what's happening," he said. "We're doing great things in Iraq and it takes time. It took our country 14 years to put together a constitution."
The 300 soldiers about 70 from California will be primarily planning logistics for Iraq's army and police. Their duties will include helping Iraqis with budgeting, transportation and medical support.
"It's not a combat arms unit, a lot of our work will be in front of computers," said Alexander, an Oakland police sergeant who leaves behind his job as the department's chief of staff.
A military band played patriotic songs, soldiers fired 13 ceremonial cannon shots and dozens of American flags whipped in the wind behind troops lined up in formation.
Maj. Gen. Terrill K. Moffett, the division's commander, told the audience that training the Iraqi law enforcement agencies to stand on their own is critical to the long-term success of Iraq.
"Our armed forces have given the Iraqi people the opportunity to live in peace and freedom," Moffett said. "What they do with that opportunity is ultimately up to them."
After the ceremony, the soldiers gathered for a reception of cake and cookies. Gonzalez, the Hayward sergeant, called over his 8-year-old son, telling him to stop running around and drop for some pushups.
Gonzalez's wife, Wandra Williams, said she's proud of her husband but admitted it will be difficult raising their two sons with dad overseas.
"He's a very active, hands-on father and now I'm going to be going solo," she said. "It really cuts up our routine, but I've got family that lives nearby and all the soldiers' wives have come together to support each other."
Contact MediaNews staff writer Ryan Huff at (925) 977-8471 or email@example.com.