Gaono retires after 25 years of service in the Army and National Guard
Mack Gaono said his service in the US Army and the Missouri National Guard was largely inspired by his family’s influence.
His father, an American Samoan, obtained his citizenship by enlisting in the United States military and completing a career as a military engineer. Additionally, his two older brothers also enlisted in the military, cementing his own decision to enlist.
“I was born in Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1978 while my father was stationed there,” Gaono said. “He eventually transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, and I graduated from Waynesville High School in 1996.”
After enlisting in the Army, he remained at Fort Leonard Wood for his basic training. From there, he transferred to Fort Sam Houston, TX for advanced training as a combat medic, believing that such a choice of military career would give him the opportunity to serve with his siblings.
“The medical training would allow me to be transferred to Fort Bragg (North Carolina) as an airborne medic,” recalls Gaono. “At the time, my two brothers were stationed there, but as soon as I arrived they were transferred elsewhere,” he laughed. “But the best part of my time there was that I married my sweetheart from high school in 1997.”
After spending two years in this post, he soon received his first overseas posting with the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment in Schweinfurt, Germany. For the next three years, he continued his service as a medic as the regiment completed its marksmanship training and other combat-related exercises.
While stationed in Germany, his battalion was among the first American troops to deploy in Bosnia. Then, in 1998, the battalion was sent to the Republic of Macedonia as part of a UN peacekeeping mission.
“We had four of our soldiers captured during the deployment, and Jesse Jackson led a delegation that met the Yugoslav president and had them released,” Gaono said.
Returning to Germany, Gaono completed the remainder of his active duty enlistment and was discharged in 2001. Moving to the Waynesville area, he enlisted in the Missouri National Guard so he could continue his military career. while pursuing university studies.
He briefly served in a field artillery battery before being transferred to state headquarters in Jefferson City as a medic. However, he was soon given the opportunity to become a member of the newly formed 7th Civilian Support Team.
“It was a whole new unit that didn’t even have a developed doctrine yet,” he said. “The main objective of the team was to provide support to civilian authorities in cases where weapons of mass destruction were used.”
His career led him to become a full-time National Guard. In 2005, he made the decision to attend the Officer Candidate School (OCS) after obtaining the required college credit. In 2006, he completed the OCS program and was promoted to second lieutenant.
In tribute to his father, he decided to become an engineer and completed his basic officer course at Fort Leonard Wood. His first professional experience as an officer was in Ketchikan, Alaska, where he spent two years on a road construction project on an island inhabited by Native Americans.
Sadly, his mother died of diabetes in 2008. Gaono continued to work to complete his education while performing his military duties, earning a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2010.
He recalls: “After my stay in Alaska, I became the executive officer of the 220th Engineers at Festus. After that, I was the training officer of the 1140th Engineer Battalion at Cape Girardeau, in the land of God,” he said. he smiled. “Then I became a company commander for the 1438th Multi-Role Bridge Company (MRBC) in Macon and was deployed with them.”
Captain Gaono helped kick off the company with his pre-deployment training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and Fort Leonard Wood. During the summer of 2013, the 1438th MRBC was deployed to Afghanistan.
“We were originally stationed at Camp Leather Neck, where the Marines were,” Gaono said. “Our main mission was to keep the mobility corridors open and part of that included the installation and maintenance of bridges.”
During their first bridge mission in the Eastern Province, a bridge installed by Gaono’s company was named in honor of Major Kelly Messerli of California, a former company commander who died just months before their deployment.
“It was a dangerous mission because we had to make our own road clearance,” he said. “There were times when we had so much gear, we weren’t allowed on the bases and had to sleep outside the wire, ensuring our own safety.”
The company returned to the United States in June 2014, with the distinction of being the only bridge company deployed in Afghanistan that did not lose a single soldier. Gaono quickly returned to the 7th Civilian Support Team, but was later promoted to major and transferred to Joint Forces Headquarters in Jefferson City.
He retired in July from the Missouri National Guard with 25 years of total service credit.
Like most military careers, full of interesting and unexpected twists and turns, Gaono maintains that his focus has shifted to spending quality time with those closest to him.
“When I look back on it all, I feel like I have accomplished a lot and I am proud to have been able to serve my country,” he said.
He added: “But last summer being able to spend time with my three children and my wife was the best summer I have ever had. They have always supported me and are now my goal.”
Jeremy P. Amick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.