Pacelli grad: Soldiers want to serve ‘a higher purpose’

Published 9:13 am Friday, November 10, 2017

Hans Gilbert, a 2000 graduate of Pacelli High School, said he knew from the time he was in second grade that he wanted to serve in the military.

He had seen a movie called “Memphis Belle” while recovering from an illness and “when I saw that, saw the camaraderie, I knew it was something I wanted to do. I made up my mind to be a soldier.”

And that’s just what the second grader grew up to be. During a Veterans Day presentation on Thursday, Gilbert, an Austin firefighter, told Pacelli students about his time during three deployments as a member of the Austin Army National Guard. 

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He served tours in Iraq, Kosovo, and Afghanistan .

Six promotions later, he spoke often about his buddies. That camaraderie he witnessed so long ago in the movies became real over and over again, he said, during his service overseas.

“Veterans Day is about remembering the sacrifices my buddies have made, the sacrifices that the people who went before us made … it is the day when I am thankful for them. We’re people who want to serve a higher purpose.”

Veterans are a breed apart — and for Gilbert, the best friends who would ever have.

So close were friends that “I could tell, just by the way someone walked, who I was looking at,” he said. When he went to Iraq in the first deployment, he went with 250 fellow soldiers — and today, he said, he could name each one of them.

“That is the way it is. We knew each other better than family. It’s always been about the people … one of the best memories I’ll have are the people I’ve met; there are not better friends, brothers, sisters, than you find in the military.”

Gilbert told the students how the military also offered him a chance to grow up and to challenge himself. He went from being a truck driver — Austin’s Guard unit is a transportation company — to being a medic.

Hans Gilbert, a member of the Austin Army National Guard, told Pacelli students on Thursday about what it meant to be part of three different deployments. He served overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

“I wanted a different challenge,” he said. “Being a medic is not an easy job; you really have to think about what you’re doing. You have to help people who have been blown up, to people with a just a cough.”

Students had many questions, from what a Purple Heart was and what the meaning was of the ribbons on his chest; to whether he had been shot at — he had — and whether he had shot someone else. He declined to talk about that, he said.

“It’s a personal thing,” he said.

Overall, his service was often “boring, quite honestly … it was often repetitive work,” noting that after the first deployment, the unit had traveled almost two million miles in a 10-month period.

“But boring is good (when you are in a war zone),” he said. “We don’t mind boring.”