Through her scope: Defender represents Air Force at Sniper Competition

Staff Sgt. Monica Gonzalez, 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron nuclear security instructor, releases a spent clip from her M-9 pistol during an event in the 2012 International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., which took place Nov. 2 through 5. (Courtsey photo)

Staff Sgt. Monica Gonzalez, 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron nuclear security instructor, releases a spent clip from her M-9 pistol during an event in the 2012 International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., which took place Nov. 2 through 5. (Courtsey photo)

F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. -- Some situations have a tendency to put an individual in the spotlight.

Representing the Air Force in the 2012 International Sniper Competition at Fort Benning, Ga., was only one factor that made Staff Sgt. Monica Gonzalez, 620th Ground Combat Training Squadron Nuclear Security Instructor, draw people's attention.

As part of the only Air Force team out of 35 in attendance, Gonzalez also made history as being the first female to compete in the event during its 12 years of existence.

Along with her partner, Senior Airman Anthony Leopardi, 620th GCTS, Gonzalez competed in the 72-hour competition against members of all branches of the U.S. military as well as teams representing international forces.

The event ran virtually non-stop over the three days, allowing the competitors only two four-hour rest periods.

Gonzalez is also the only female instructor in the 620th GCTS, though she shies away from attention garnered by her gender.

Since her father is a retired Army veteran, Gonzalez sees herself as part of one team, ready to fight anywhere, anytime -- a role she enjoys expressing to her fellow Airmen.

"My favorite part of my job is shooting," Gonzalez said. "I also love training people who love to shoot as well; I feed off their enthusiasm."

During the competition Gonzalez and Leopardi found themselves learning new tactics and using some older techniques.

"The Air Force is about air superiority," Gonzalez explained. "We found ourselves a little behind the curve in terms of weapons, equipment and tactics. Prior to the competition I had only fired the M-240."

Despite such setbacks, the Warren team found ways to excel, especially when given the opportunity to utilize core tactics.

"There was a stalking exercise where we had to use navigation to track the adversary," she said. "Everyone on the other teams was trying to use different GPS devices they had, but due to the fact that we were in a very remote location nothing was working.

"Leopardi and I did very well in that event when we pulled out the map and plotted the locations," she added with a wry grin.

Along with stalking events, the teams competed in a 500- and 800-meter, one-shot challenge; stress and memory tests; room breaching exercises; and firing competitions during the day and at night.

The Warren team plans to use the tactics and training they received at Fort Benning in their training with troops in Camp Guernsey, Wyo.

"We came to the table ready to learn," Gonzalez said. "We kept an open mind and took a lot of notes and hopefully we'll be able to implement those things we learned into our close position engagement course."

Though Gonzalez was the first female competing in the U.S. Sniper Competition, she sees herself as a member of the U.S. military team first and foremost.

"My peers keep me motivated," explained Gonzalez. "I feed off the intensity and drive of those fighting beside me."

Since working with the 90th Security Forces Group Tactical Response Force, Gonzalez has made it her goal to be just as good as the guys if not better.

"The Airmen in TRF are a different breed, they have a unique mentality, I noticed that and appreciated it training beside them," she added.

Summing up what drives her, Gonzalez echoed a sentiment found in the Airman's Creed.

"I don't like failing," she said. "I will not fail, plain and simple."