Angel Gonzalez Jr. has never been in one spot for more than a couple of hours.
Just when you think his mind-bending story is about to end, facets of his life take flight, rising at a dizzying pace that befuddles anyone he meets.
Gonzalez, 48, is a helicopter pilot for the Newark Police Division, but his 24-year career as an officer is packed with public service that crisscrosses the first responder spectrum. It’s wide-ranging, from emergency medical technician and SWAT team member to special agent and warrant officer in a unit that protects top military officials in the United States Army.
“The future is vast and if we do not embrace what the future has to bring to us, we will never know how we can achieve those limits that we are trying to achieve,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve always been disciplined. I’ve always been a hard worker.”
He’s always wanted to serve in Newark, his hometown, as a police officer.
Gonzalez joined the department at age 23 in 1998 and was later assigned in 2002 to the Auto Theft Task Force, where he stayed four years until earning a spot with the Emergency Services Unit (ESU), an elite squad that has been the base for much of his experience and assignments.
There’s plenty to do in ESU — on the ground and in the air. High above the city, Gonzalez patrols Newark streets in the department’s Army surplus helicopter. When he’s up there, the veteran officer is looking for cars driving erratically, blowing past red lights, swerving in and out of traffic, or crossing the double solid yellow lines in the road.
“It’s either an emergency or there is something of a criminal nature going on,” Gonzalez said.
On two consecutive weekends, two stolen cars were speeding through city streets until Gonzalez spotted them. Over the air, he led marked units on the ground so they could be in a position to make an arrest when the suspects ran from the vehicles they abandoned. In both cases, the cars were recovered and the suspects were caught, one of them by Newark Public Safety Director Brian A. O’Hara, who was in the area as the crime unfolded.
“Aviation is a great asset,” Gonzalez said.
And so is Gonzalez in the eyes of Director O’Hara, who said the veteran officer’s experience is invaluable to the Newark Police Division.
“I can’t say enough about Angel and what he’s done as our helicopter pilot in a career that is nothing short of amazing. What he has accomplished, and more importantly, his commitment to protect Newark residents deserves our utmost respect when he’s in the air to make our streets safe,” O’Hara said.
On the ground, Gonzalez is just as busy. He responds to calls with the department’s ESU rescue truck, using his 33 years of experience as an emergency medical technician to help someone who could be injured, not breathing or trapped in a vehicle.
He’s trained in everything from cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and vehicle extrication to first aid and high-angle rope and confined space rescue. In more emergencies, he’s qualified to be an incident commander and hazmat technician.
With this litany of responsibility, it’s hard to believe that there’s more to his story, but there is — lots more. On the ESU SWAT team, Gonzalez is a hostage negotiator and a master breacher, meaning he’s the first guy through the door. He has worked nights his entire career, but somewhere along the way Gonzalez became a volunteer firefighter in Roselle Park, New Jersey, earned a college degree online in criminal justice and found time to pursue his dream to be airborne.
As much as he wanted to be a police officer, Gonzalez had a competing desire to be an airline pilot and fly helicopters in the military after graduating from Newark’s East Side High School. His parents nixed the helicopter Army idea and, at the time, Gonzalez didn’t really know how to go about being an airline pilot.
The passion to fly, however, never waned while Gonzalez answered what he says was his calling to be a Newark police officer. In 2003, he began taking flying lessons in single-engine aircraft. But his aviation focus shifted toward helicopters over the next three years when he was a tactical flight observer in a New Jersey Army National Guard unit that worked with the Newark Police Department.
Based on crime trends in the city, the police department, which did not have a helicopter, would call on the National Guard to conduct drug interdiction and auto suppression missions that Gonzalez was a part of as the tactical flight observer and member of the department’s Auto Theft Task Force. In that aerial role, he was the person in the helicopter who stayed in touch with police units on the ground during their assignments.
As he patrolled Newark streets from the sky, Gonzalez pursued a late-in-life goal to actually fly
helicopters for the Army. In 2008, Gonzalez, who was 33 then, set out on that path when he went to boot camp and joined the U.S. Army Reserve. Meanwhile, the Newark Police Department purchased its own helicopter that Gonzalez learned how to fly after he joined the department’s Aviation Unit in 2011.
His preparation, however, to be a helicopter pilot for the Army did not stop. Over the next four years, while on assignment with the Army Reserve, Gonzalez laid the groundwork for helicopter pilot training as a tactical flight observer until his age grounded him.
Gonzalez, who was 34 years old at the time, needed to be 33 or receive a waiver to be accepted for the training.
The Army denied his request, but the disappointment led to another opportunity in 2014 to make his resume even more impressive. His skillset and vast leadership ability were a match for the United States Army Criminal Intelligence Division (CID) at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Previously known as the Criminal Investigation Command, CID handles all investigations in the Army.
In seven years with CID, Gonzalez has become a special agent and a warrant officer, and has been assigned to the Executive Protection Unit for top Pentagon and Department of Defense officials, including the secretary of the Army, secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The training here has been extensive, taking him to officer and driving schools, where he’s learned maneuvers in protection vehicles like armored limousines that carry dignitaries.
Throughout his journey, Gonzalez squeezes as much out of life as he can, leaving nothing on the table. On his days off, he flew helicopters part-time with a tour company for more experience. At one point he was the master diver for the Newark Police Department’s Scuba Team, and for fun — get this — Gonzalez dives in New Jersey waters looking for shipwrecks at the bottom of the ocean floor.
“The more training that I have under my belt, the better prepared I am to exceed and obtain another position because of my training and background,” Gonzalez said. “If you are being selected for a particular job and you have all these facets of you, they’re going to choose the person that has more experience. So why not have it all.”
A father of four, Gonzalez has been an inspirational example of hard work to his children. His son graduated from Seton Hall University last May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in finance and he’s on track this summer to receive a Master of Business Administration degree in information technology management.
None of what Gonzalez has done, however, happens without his faith in God, who gets the credit for his strength and mental aptitude. He then offers praise to his parents, Angel Gonzalez Sr., and his late mother, Daisy. Together, Gonzalez said they raised him right and their values, discipline and structure will help him with his next accomplishment.
Gonzalez wants to be an airline pilot, a career where he’ll spread his wings after retirement from the Newark Police Division.
“I’m just driven,’’ Gonzalez said. “That’s in me.’’