Master Sgt. Elder Gomez, 34, is 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion's logistics chief, but also the unit's stand-in first sergeant working to mentor Marines under his command. He has served nearly 17 years in uniform, six on active duty, and made a handful of deployments including one to Iraq during the 2003 invasion. Most recently, he deployed to an unnamed country in U.S. Northern Command, leveraging his Spanish fluency to teach foreign troops close quarters battle techniques.
Beyond playing a pivotal role in his unit, Gomez is also a stalwart of the Alvin, Texas, community located just south of Houston. There he serves as a deputy sheriff for Brazoria County, where he is also a team leader and tactics instructor for the county SWAT team. Much of his work is done in the city's "barrio," a poor section of town plagued by gangs and drugs where he himself grew up.
His early struggles in life as the poor son of Mexican immigrants who moved to Texas in the 1980s before earning citizenship allow him to gain the confidence of struggling youth. He works tirelessly to steer them toward higher education and military service. Gomez also has a track record of quickly solving serious crimes. In 2013, his linguistic skills paired with a close working relationship with his community helped him track down the hit-and-run killer of a 15-year-old girl within a day of her death. A year later, Gomez took just four hours to clinch a confession in Spanish from a man who killed his own wife.
Despite taking a bullet from a sniper in Marjah, Afghanistan, which left him paralyzed below the knee in one leg, Sgt. Anthony Arriaga has never stopped moving forward.
The father of two was serving with 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines when he suffered the injury while fighting his way out of an ambush during a combat patrol in 2010. The wound severed a nerve and blew out a portion of his thigh, landing Arriaga in the Wounded Warriors Battalion after four years in the Corps and three deployments.
Arriaga, however, fought to stay in the Corps. He encouraged other injured veterans, helping them recover, find employment or pursue higher education. Though Arriaga will lose his leg this summer-multiple attempts to rejuvenate it have failed, he said - the sergeant has successfully transferred from a rifleman to a member of Marine Corps Intelligence Activity.
Notable quote from his nomination: "[Instead] of focusing on just himself, Arriaga chose - and chooses to continue - to think of others and give back," wrote his company commander in the sergeant's nomination form. "Regardless of where the future of his injuries and future surgeries take him, he will always have the Marine Corps on his mindset and how to make it better by educating and motivating the future generations to come."