From the time Springs resident Joseph Gambino was a little boy, he only wanted one thing – to join the military.
The 17-year-old's mother, Robin Goetz, said as a child, her son loved G.I. Joe figures; and he won a karaoke contest at 10 when he dressed entirely in camouflage and wowed judges with a heartfelt rendition of “God Bless America.”
“He’s always said, ‘I want to be a soldier.’ It’s never been anything different,” she said.
Gambino, who graduated from in June, joined the Army and headed off to boot camp in Fort Benning, Georgia on Tuesday. Gambino met his recruitment officer in Riverhead before heading to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, where he was sworn in on Wednesday.
Goetz, said her son hails from a long line of heroes – her father and brother, as well as her husband – Joseph’s stepfather – all have served the country.
Slated to work as a cavalry scout, engaged in reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines, Gambino will begin his military career with eight weeks in boot camp, followed by more training. He will return home for two weeks in December.
Gambino heads into the military remembering the two East End soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanastan, both of whom he knew; Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter and Army 1st Lt. Joseph J. Theinert.
Gambino's stepfather works with Haerter's mother JoAnn Lyles and Theinert and Gambino went to school on Shelter Island, where Theinert is from, until fifth grade.
A few months ago, Gambino and his mother ran into Theinert's mother, Chrystyna Kestler, and step-father, Dr. Frank Kestler, a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, also an Iraq veteran, at the former Pat & Steve's Restarurant on Shelter Island. "His mother said, 'I will pray for you.' Frank shook his hand. My heart broke," Goetz said.
Gambino admits to being “a little bit” scared of war, but tries “not to think about it," he said on his drive to be sworn in on Tuesday.
Instead, he's excited to travel – he is guaranteed to serve overseas. Gambino said he looks forward to training the least but is eager to embark on his journey. “I’m doing it for me,” he said. “It’s time for me to move on and get on with my life.”
He's received support and thanks from scores of friends and family members. “People thank me for doing what I’m doing – for being brave,” he said.
Goetz said her son never considered another career path.
“His guidance counselor always told me not to waste time with SAT prep tests. He’s known since day one that being in the military is what he wants.”
In high school, Gambino played baseball for a year, enjoyed hunting with his grandfather and participating in , which on the South Fork has honored Haerter, as well as working at the .
Gambino, who was called by all four branches of the military, had his heart set on the Army.
Goetz said her other children, Bryan, 14, and Ryan Goetz, 20, are also “very emotional” about seeing their brother off; the whole family were present at Fort Hamilton; his friends gave him a sendoff at the house.
Saying good-bye isn’t easy, Goetz said. “You have to let go,” she said. “But that’s what I’m having problems with, the letting go.”
Adam Fine, principal at East Hampton High School wished Gambino and fellow student Chris Fallon, who also opted for a military career, luck.
“I am very proud of our students who decide to pursue a career in the military," he said. "All too often we forget these students when we choose to honor the students who will go on to college. We as a school and community owe them a debt of gratitude.”
As her son headed off, Goetz said, "I told him, ‘I’m easy compared to boot camp.’”
“He said ‘Boot camp will be a breeze compared to you',” he teased.