Veteran Faces of CNM: Stacia Gonzalez

Back on 9/11, Stacia was part of an Air Force team that responded directly to the attacks
November 09, 2021

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Stacia Gonzales was 23, in the Air Force, and working at the  Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, New York. She was responsible for identifying all air traffic coming into the Eastern United States from overseas, and coordinated with various Federal Air Administration (FAA) Air Traffic Control Centers and military units to ensure aircraft were on their filed flight plans. She was also charged with investigating any aircraft that deviated from their flight plans, lost contact with the FAA, or did not file flight plans.

What soon unfolded that day has been re-told in many, in-depth articles, but the short story is that Stacia quickly found herself on part of the front-line Air Force team working to respond to the 9/11 hijackings. She heard over the radio as the planes crashed and watched with horror as images popped up on the TV news stations. 

“It was totally chaotic,” she says. “I got there at 7:30 a.m. that morning and didn’t go home until 1:30 a.m. on the 12th when my boss finally demanded I get some rest. I do remember, however, that in the moment all my training kicked in and that’s what guided me throughout the day.” 

After 9/11 Stacia was shaken but never stopped looking forward. She spent another 20 years in the Air Force and just retired last month at the rank of Master Sergeant. She spent years as a trainer based out of Washington D.C. and also took on the role of Sexual Assault Volunteer Victim Advocate where she worked with service members who had experienced sexual violence.

Stacia moved to New Mexico this year because her husband owns a business here. After leaving the service, she decided to pursue a career in social work so she could continue working with sexual assault victims and others that needed help. She saw that CNM had a Human Services degree and enrolled as a first step toward her plan to get a bachelor’s in Social Work and a masters in Clinical Social Work. 

“I discovered that I really love helping people during my victim advocacy work in the Air Force and it was powerful to see the changes we were able to create with regular support,” she says. 

Stacia enrolled at CNM during the COVID-19 pandemic but says she was immediately welcomed into the college community. All her instructors were approachable and made extra time to answer questions, and she also started working with the Veterans Resource Center and they provided her with additional resources. 

Today, Stacia is a work-study student at the VRC.

“As a work study I'm able to help other CNM veterans and their family members by relaying the resources the VRC offers. It's an outstanding program and Matt Fuentes and Ian Scott have created such welcoming space for Veterans and their family members,” she says. 

Earlier this year Stacia also had the opportunity to participate in the 20th anniversary of 9/11. She went back to New York and spent the anniversary with many of her fellow service members who were with her that day.

“I wasn’t really able to process a lot of what happened until years later, so the anniversary was important because it truly helped bring a sense of closure,” she says.