By Sue Baldani
Veterans Day is a federal holiday designated to honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Let’s say thank you to these brave men and women, not just this November 11, but every day of the year.
The heroes profiled here all reside in Gainesville. Let’s take a moment to meet them:
Sergeant Aaron Roth – Marine (Active duty: 2001 to 2009)
Ten days after graduating from high school, Aaron Roth was starting boot camp. At that time, he had no idea how the world was about to change. “The Twin Towers were hit right as I was finishing up boot camp, so I was technically the first class that graduated after that,” he said. “I immediately went into active war time.”
All of his combat deployments were in Afghanistan, so he knew the country well. This past summer, years after leaving the Marines, he returned. “I went back over when Kabul was shutting down,” said Roth. He arrived there in mid-July and spent time helping people get out before the August 31 deadline.
When he headed back home, he was in for quite a nice surprise. “My wife Kayla was extra concerned about this last trip, and when I came home she surprised me and had all the neighbors out to welcome me,” he said. “It was nice to see how patriotic everyone still is. There were probably over 40 people there and they were waving American flags. Neighborhood kids drew a huge American flag with sidewalk chalk and made posters.”
There were also a lot of retired military people there, including Richard Eagan and Carlos Molina, who will be introduced shortly.
For men and women thinking about joining the military today, he recommends it 100%. “Get that experience and be able to see things from the military perspective because there are a lot of things that people don’t see,” said Roth. “Even if you don’t go to a war zone, just traveling out of the United States gives you a much better perspective of the vast differences between certain countries and the things you hear on the news inside the U.S. When you’re actually there it gives you a whole new perspective on the reality of what’s going on as opposed to the 30-second news clip you see. When you’re there for weeks and months at a time, the tragedies that are going on around the world that are unseen really hit home.”
Originally from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, Roth lives with his wife and two daughters, Myah, age 8, and Mila, age 5, in Gainesville.
Command Sergeant Major Richard Eagan – Army (Active duty: 1965 to 1993)
During the turmoil of the Vietnam War, Richard Eagan headed to the recruitment office as soon as he turned 18. “I went to basic training in August of 1965 and graduated from Advanced Individuals Training at another post in January 1966,” he said. By the end of that month, he was on a plane heading for a war zone.
“I was a mechanic when I started, and in late May of 1966, our platoon leader was killed and two of our NCOs wounded,” said Eagan. “I then became more aware but never afraid and just focused on doing my job.”
His first deployment to Vietnam lasted 18 months and he returned once again in 1968 for another 18 months. “I became a professional soldier very, very early on.”
One of the things that attracted him to the military was the camaraderie. “What the military does, much like a sports team, is to make you become part of a unit, and collectively, you figure out how to do whatever you have to do,” he said.
“We were compelled to work and live with whomever was there. It didn’t matter what their nationality was, it didn’t matter what their race was, or where they came from – none of that mattered.”
When he looks back at his military career, what also stands out for him is the potential of every individual who served alongside him.
“I was most impressed with everyone’s ability to do almost anything. I realized that when people are given the tools, the training, and the time, they can do whatever you need them to do.”
He said he identifies himself as a high school graduate who joined the Army with no purpose and no direction. “When I retired, I was a Command Sergeant Major,” said Eagan. “That doesn’t happen without a lot of people spending a whole lot of time and love on you. And, without you spending a whole lot of time and love on a whole bunch of people.”
Today, Eagan lives in Gainesville with his wife Loretta. “She had the harder job,” he said. “My hours were erratic; my days were erratic. We spent over seven years apart and some of that time was when the kids were in high school. She is a very strong woman.”
Master Sergeant Carlos Molina – Air Force (Active duty: 1987 to 2007)
When Carlos Molina was a senior in a college, he spotted an Air Force recruitment center while driving one day. He decided to pull over, walk in, and get some information. A couple of days later, he returned to sign up.
“I always had a passion for airplanes,” he said.
After basic training in San Antonio, Texas, he went on to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi for technical training. His first duty station was Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware. Then, he was deployed.
“My first deployment was for Operation Just Cause in 1989 in Panama, where I stayed for six weeks,” said Molina. “My next deployment was Desert Shield in August of 1990 and then Desert Storm in January 1991. After the actual war, it changed to Desert Calm in March 1991 and that’s where I stayed for almost a year.”
From there, he went on to Haiti, Somalia, and Bosnia. He also found himself in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2002.
“For the first 14 years, I was gone over 4000 days,” said Molina. “I was able to perform different jobs. First I was doing avionics maintenance on C5 aircraft and then I was on the crew of C5s. I flew to over 100 countries. I then did some HUMINT [covert intelligence gathering] with the Defense Intelligence Agency before they sent me back to Texas in 2002 to run the technical school there.”
Even with all of that, the one thing that really stands out for him are the people. “You can have all kinds of differences and views, but you know that they have your back,” said Molina. “You can count on them without any doubt.”
For others thinking of going into the military, he says to do so with an open mind. “There are going to be some hard times, but at the end, they will look back on it as the best thing they’ve ever done.”
Today, Carlos is a system engineer for Boeing, and he and his wife, Kerry, who he has been married to for 15 years, have two children, Spencer, age 13 and Lacy, age 11. “The military is hard on its members, but it’s even harder on the family,” said Molina. “They are the unsung heroes of the military.”