SOLANA BEACH — Retired Marine Master Sgt. Julian Gonzales, who is currently serving as senior vice commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5431, received the Law Enforcement Award from the Solana Beach organization Oct. 12.
Gonzales was recognized for his many years of volunteer service, but specifically for developing Police Interaction with Youth for the San Diego Unified School District.
The program, which launched during the 2016-2017 school year, is a tool to build and strengthen the relationship between police officers and school communities.
More than 900 fifth-graders graduated this past spring from the inaugural year program, which is now fully funded by the district. For his work, Gonzales was also named the district police department’s Office of the Year.
He is now organizing an honor guard for the department for memorials and ceremonies. VFW Post 5431 member Steven Ellwood presented him with a $650 donation to help buy uniforms.
Gonzales joined the Marine Corps in 1982 and earned his VFW eligibility in El Salvador three years later. During his more than 20-year military career he served as a police detective, embassy guard and supervisor of White House presidential security on the Marine One helicopter.
In 1999 the Marine Corps named him Volunteer of the Year for his work with Drug Abuse Resistance Education, better known as D.A.R.E.
Following his retirement from the military he joined the La Palma Police Department in Orange County, California. In March 2016 he was sworn in as a campus police officer for San Diego Unified School District.
He assisted at football and soccer games and received a letter of appreciation from the district’s police chief.
That summer he created Police Interaction with Youth, which has been described as D.A.R.E. on steroids, VFW Post 5431 Commander Randall Treadway said.
During the graduation, which Gonzales funded through private donations, he told students they now had “all the skills necessary to make the right decisions about illegal drugs, gangs, violence and bullying.”
“It is my hope that you will remember what you have learned in P.I.Y.,” he said. “Open up your tool box and use those tools when you are faced with making tough decisions.
“I also want you to remember that you are not alone,” Gonzales added. “There are many of us in the community that want to help you make the right choices.”
Although he currently lives in Fallbrook, Gonzales said he transferred his VFW membership from Virginia to Solana Beach because he used to walk by the local headquarters on Coast Highway 101 daily while visiting his daughter, who once lived around the corner.
He said Treadway “opened his arms and his post to me.”
“The leadership at this post has been instrumental in supporting me and supporting the school’s programs,” Gonzales said. “And the members have been so accommodating.”
“Even though I don’t live in the city, I feel an obligation to serve with my brothers and sisters here,” he added. “I want to thank you very much for including me.”
Gonzales is now eligible for the district and state Law Enforcement Award. Should he be recognized at those levels he will be nominated for the national award in January.