Even before he took his oath of citizenship, Sgt. Aquilino Gonell had sworn as a soldier to defend the United States.
On Tuesday, he said he was more afraid upholding that oath during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol than he had been all of his time serving his country in Iraq.
In emotional testimony before a House panel investigating the deadly violence at the Capitol, Gonell joined other Capitol Police officers in denouncing the attackers and detailing the violence they faced that day.
Gonell, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic, said that as he upheld his oath to defend the Capitol at the Lower West Terrace, he was called a traitor and a disgrace and the attackers “shouted that I, I, an Army veteran and police officer, should be executed.”
It worsened. "If you shoot us, we will shoot back," he heard the attackers say.
Gonell described the clash with violent supporters of then-President Donald Trump as akin to being on a medieval battleground, “hand to hand, inch by inch” and as a “prolonged and desperate battle” in which he heard one of the officers who testified — D.C. Police Officer Daniel Hodges — screaming in pain.
As attackers kept trying to breach the Capitol, Gonell said, he found himself in a fight for his life. When he slipped on police shields that were wet with bear and pepper spray, his attackers pulled him by his leg, by his own shield and by the strap on his shoulder.
At one point while being crushed by the rioters, he recalled losing oxygen and thinking “this is how I am going to die.”
Despite that, after a brief time at home, he returned to the Capitol, setting aside his wife's concerns, he said.
"My sense of duty for the country, for the Constitution, at that time was bigger than even my love for my wife and my son," he said. He blasted those who have sworn an oath, elected officials and people in the military, for forgetting their oath and putting party before country.
"I could have lost my life that day but as I recover from my injuries, I will continue forward and proudly serve my country and the U.S. Capitol," he said.
Gonell expressed anger that the attackers called themselves patriots and attacked police with the American flag.
This contrasts with his own love for the country, he said, detailing for the panel taking his citizenship oath July 23, 1999, just before he turned 21, and after he had already joined the military. He said he has taken oaths to defend the Constitution and the U.S. multiple times as a soldier and an officer.
“As a child in the Dominican Republic, I looked up to the United States as a land of opportunity and a place to better myself. From that moment I landed at JFK in 1992, I have tried to pursue that goal. Thankfully, I have achieved that goal on many levels,” Gonell said.
He was the first in his family to graduate college, to join the Army and become a police officer, he said.
Personally wounded by insults, lack of outrage over Jan. 6 attack
Gonell suffered physical injuries, which will require him to undergo more surgery, possibly more than a year of "painful" rehabilitation, and which forced him to take leave.
He felt personally wounded by the attackers’ insults and their claims of being patriots and the failure of some to express outrage at their actions.
“There are some who express outrage when someone kneels while calling for social justice. Where are those same people expressing outrage to condemn the violent attack on law enforcement, the Capitol and on our American democracy?” Gonell asked. “I’m still waiting for them.”