Sergeant - United States Army,
184th Air Assault Infantry Regiment, 1st battalion
Iraq War (2003-2009)
On May 20th, 1983, Gabriel Carsillo was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina with heart of a soldier beating within him – containing a fighting spirit that drives him to this day. Immigrating to Marin County at an early age, he was raised seeing the conflicts in Serbia and Kosovo on television and how the U.S. armed forces stopped the senseless killing. Carsillo, both wanting to impress his father (A soldier in the Argentine Marines) and to participate in similar peacekeeping efforts, enlisted in the United States Army infantry in 2001. Ironically, Carsillo’s father was against his enlistment, but Gabriel Carsillo was determined to see his duty through.
Initially, Carsillo was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia for basic training. Carsillo was physically pushed and trained in weapons for 6 days a week. The biting cold, lack of privacy, and constant scrutiny put quite a strain on him. Church was his only recourse – an excuse to get away from cleaning that would otherwise greet him on Sundays. However, Carsillo does not regret basic training: “I would say, for an eighteen-year-old straight out of high school, and knowing what I know now, it was very effective.” After a two-week leave, he was almost ready to begin his life as an infantryman.
Carsillo trained in several places around the world to increase his combat effectiveness. Whether in Australia or Hawaii, Carsillo would march through hostile terrain, eat M.R.E.’s, be instructed in firearm accuracy, and sleep on the ground. While the work sounds grueling, he enjoyed bonding with the California National Guard. He remarks: “Best friends I could ever make in a lifetime or more. They were outstanding soldiers. The best people I could ever imagine.” However, his fun would soon be cut short when war broke out in the middle east.
Like the nation itself, Carsillo was excited, confused, and scared when the war began. He was first sent to Fort Bliss in Texas to train in desert and urban warfare. Carsillo would be in the dark on his assignment in Iraq until he arrived there. Carsillo remembers his poor treatment at Fort Bliss: “…they were treating us like animals. Sometimes we wouldn’t eat, or we would get fed just rice and some sort of meat. It was very cold and miserable. We’d be pretty much frozen during training all the time.”
After the training at Fort Bliss, Carsillo ended up being sent to protect the Christian Al Dora district in Baghdad from Sunni Al-Qaeda extremists. He was treated to great food, air conditioning, and internet access; but these amenities cannot stop the realities of the war around him. He remembers how his warrior spirit conflicted with his commanding officers: “My biggest pet-peeve was going overseas and well, this is going to sound strange, but not killing as many bad people as we could have. Because we would get briefings every day before going on patrol and every single time we’d hear, ‘This person got executed, this person got killed, this person’s family just got murdered, this person got kidnapped.’ Every single day. And so I thought, ‘Okay, let’s go kill those guys.’ So my commanding officer and my Lieutenant were not as aggressive as I wanted them to be.” Even when his unit went on missions, not everything went his way. One of Carsillo’s best friends was killed by a sniper – a traumatic moment that haunts him to this day. Overall, Carsillo’s feelings on Iraq are mixed: “I don’t think we did anything for the country to be honest. I think we probably made it worse. As an individual, I did my job. As a battalion, we did our job. We did an outstanding job for what our mission was and we did it. But yeah, for service to the country, we didn’t really do much.”
Carsillo’s next mission brought him back to Fort Bliss; but now, he was the one training new soldiers before they were sent overseas. Carsillo lived in what he described as a “military trailer park”, working three twelve-hour shifts with four days off. In this job, he could pass on the hard lessons he learned and enjoy a well-earned respite from the terrors of the land he learned them from.
While Gabriel Carsillo was honorably discharged in 2009, his heroics were far from finished. Irrevocably changed by what he saw in Iraq, he wanted to continue helping the world. First, he worked in Haiti’s only ambulance trying to save the terminally ill while also training the country’s first EMTs. Then, he went to Cambodia to do further medical work in the disadvantaged nation. Finally, Carsillo returned to Iraq in January 2017. He set up a medical facility from a bombed-out mosque just two kilometers from the front lines of the conflict with ISIS. He saved many people from the terrorist organization during the trip. Through these actions, Carsillo not only gave sacrifices to his country, but also to the world.
The story of Gabriel Carsillo has a lesson for everyone. His story shows veterans that one can continue to be a hero after the military. It shows civilians that the Army isn’t the fun and games they see in movies. It shows officers and leaders the consequences that their actions have. The story of Gabriel Carsillo is the story of a man with a soldier’s heart- a disposition that is rare in the world of today.
Interview by Gregory Markham Hill on June 21, 2017