Not many people volunteer to go into a war zone.
But Gabriel Fierro, of Cornelius, didn’t just volunteer to serve in Iraq – he requested 14 times to be sent overseas, all of which were rejected. Not one to give up, Fierro’s 15th request finally granted him approval, and a ticket to Iraq.
“I’m sure (the Army) thought something was wrong with me,” Fierro joked.
His passion began at 15 with his involvement with Junior ROTC, and it manifested into an enlistment in the U.S. Army in 1979. His journey took him around the world, including his 2007 stint of active duty in Balad, Iraq, a city a few hours north of Baghdad.
Fierro believes in himself and his country and sees his desire to serve in Iraq as passion to fulfill his duties as a Master Sergeant.
“I really enjoyed working with the (Iraqi) people and making a difference there,” Fierro said.
Fierro’s main job while working with the Iraqi government was to keep the peace between the Iraqi people, a job he likened to parenting.
“I can’t change beliefs, I can only try to change perspectives,” he said. “One person has their truth and the other, their truth, and somewhere in the middle is the real issue.”
With each day bringing its own problems, Fierro remembers that the hardest part about trying to keep the peace in Iraq was mending the bridges between the ethnic groups.
“It was a lot to deal with,” he said. “You have to be totally open; you can’t go there with preconceived notions. They don’t do things the way we do them in the States.”
Serving in a diverse culture was challenging, but it was not new to him. Fierro, who has traced his family roots to the Apache and Aztec Indian tribes, has always been able to reach into his blended history to understand various viewpoints.
Fierro married his wife Sylvia three years ago, and he is a father to Gabriel Jr., Christian, Kody Lauderback, Jacob Lauderback and Alexis Bowers, who all approached his Army career as a team.
Outside of his dress blues and button down life as an enlisted man, Fierro has other passions – these, however, have a little more flair.
Fierro is a singer, poet and entertainer with dreams of the stardom.
At 18, Fierro saw Elvis perform on TV and instantly had one goal in life: to be the next Elvis or Neil Diamond. Fierro committed himself to his Army career after re-prioritizing his goals in his mid-twenties, but he never let his entertainment dreams die. Over the years he has been a member of several bands, preformed a 14-month music tour with the United Service Organization and developed his professional speaking career.
“I’ve always been on stage,” he said.
Fierro has achieved many of his life-long goals, and he hopes to cross two more off his list: writing a book of poetry and recording a music album. Determined to live with no regrets, Fierro believes in chasing dreams.
Fierro’s service to the Army is coming to a close, but for this optimistic dreamer, it only means another chapter is beginning.
“When I’m 85-years-old I don’t want to be sitting on a park bench asking myself, ‘What if,’ ... I live with no regrets, I’m not going to be that person to say ‘I wish I would have done that,’” Fierro said with a smile.