Not all heroes wear a cape, or even a baseball jersey.
Fans who attended last Friday’s Kansas City Royals game at Kauffman Stadium found that out as retired Army Specialist Michael Gomez, who lost an eye in combat in Afghanistan in 2009, was honored by Chevrolet and GallantFew in the bottom of the first inning of the game against the reigning world champion Houston Astros.
Gomez, who lives in Blue Springs, thought he was just taking part in a ceremony to recognize GallantFew, an organization run by veterans to help with the transition from military service to a civilian life. He had no idea how his life was about to change.
As he stood in front of the Royals dugout, he learned he was being given a Chevrolet Equinox, as part of Chevrolet’s “Everyday Hero” program.
As the announcement was made, players in both the Royals and Astros dugouts stood to honor a man who made a great sacrifice for his country.
“I was standing there, listening to what the people on the field were saying and I thought I heard something about a car,” said Gomez, who lost an eye when he was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade while standing guard in a hillside community in Afghanistan.
“Then, they handed me this key, and I was like, ‘I’m getting a car?’ I couldn’t believe it. It’s funny, because at first I was hesitant to even be a part of the ceremony because I do not consider myself a hero by any means.”
“There are men who sacrificed their lives, who did so much more than I did – they are the heroes. But Karl (Monger, GallantFew executive director) called and personally asked me to be a part of the ceremony, and GallantFew has meant so much to me that I could not say no.”
“But I had no idea all this was happening to me. I can never thank Chevrolet and GallantFew enough. This is just amazing.”
Monger said, “Michael was very reluctant, but that’s Michael. He has made many sacrifices for his country, and this is a tremendous way to honor him. His reaction tonight was just priceless. He had no idea what was happening.”
Gomez was born in St. Joseph, Mo., and raised in King City, Mo. He joined the United States Army in 2007 in part because he found a sense of duty following the 9/11 attacks.
“My twin brother Patrick and I enlisted the same day, in an event at Arrowhead Stadium,” Gomez said. “I’ll never forget that day – just like I’ll never forget what happened to me today at The K.”
He served at Fort Drum, N.Y., and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
“Michael was at a corner in this small town when we got word that there were enemies in the area,” said Major Sam Lyon, who was Gomez’s lieutenant when he was wounded. “The first RPG came in and he was struck, and I was about 100 or 150 meters away. When I got to him, I knew he was hurt – the RPG took out a big chunk of his helmet.”
“But he said he didn’t want anyone to carry him. I remember him saying, ‘I walked up this mountain to this village, and I’m going to walk out.’ And he did. A helicopter came in, and we provided cover fire, and he walked to that helicopter and made it out.”
Since retiring, Gomez has graduated from Rockhurst University and works as a consultant, doing much of his work at the Pentagon. During his time in the Army, Gomez was awarded the Purple Heart, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the Combat Action Badge and the National Defense Service Medal.
Watching all the ceremonies, on and off the field, was his mother, Kathy Brown.
“I know he would never call himself a hero, but he will always be a hero in my eyes,” she said. “I am the mother of twins – Michael and Patrick – and you know the old saying, ‘Twins are double trouble.’ Well, to me, my twins were double delights.”