HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Six years ago, you might have found Coast Guard reservist Gabriel Aquino on a patrol boat in the Persian Gulf. Deployed to Iraq in 2010, Aquino’s mission as a member of U.S.C.G. Port Security Unit 307 was to protect high-value U.S. military assets anchored in Iraqi harbors.
“We would board foreign vessels in search of IEDs to insure that all the incoming traffic, incoming maritime traffic, into the port was clear of any hazards or dangers,” detective Aquino said.
His unit needed to be ready to act with force at a moment’s notice.
“There really is no way of telling in that part of the world who is friendly and who is not,” Aquino added.
His travels took him into the Persian Gulf on board the U.S. Navy warship Comstock for a two-week period. During that time Gabriel monitored radio traffic as the Iranians threatened to block the Straight of Hormuz and choke off the world’s oil supply.
“There was a little bit of excitement in the air,” Aquino remembered.
He is the son of immigrants, who at one time knew no freedom.
“My parents came from Cuba, where there is no freedom of press, there is no freedom of religion, and so everyday is July 4th to my parents, who came here seeking liberty,” Aquino explained.
He says he chose the Coast Guard for a very personal reason. “My father, himself, went back during the 1980 Mariel boatlift crisis and was saved by a Coast Guard cutter,” Aquino said. The Coast Guard was there for his father in his time of need, when his ship was sinking.
“So I’m rendering that favor back and paying off that debt, the eternal gratitude that I have to the United States Coast Guard,” Aquino added.
He started with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy in 2005. He worked his way up to the street crimes unit and is now an auto theft detective. To protect and to serve is not just a motto for Aquino, it is a way of life.
“I feel honored to be able to serve you and the members of my community; it is an honor to do so,” he said.
During his time in Iraq, Aquino witnessed a people in search of civil rights and and liberties – but with so much standing in front of them. He said he feels blessed and honored to provide services in the United States and thinks about that everyday, not just on the Fourth of July.