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Petty Officers 1st Class Joe Lovelace, left, and Jorge Gonzalez of Strike Fighter Squadron 102 discovered they had something in common when they found they were both from neighboring small towns in west Texas.
Petty Officers 1st Class Joe Lovelace, left, and Jorge Gonzalez of Strike Fighter Squadron 102 discovered they had something in common when they found they were both from neighboring small towns in west Texas. (Jim Schulz / S&S)

ATSUGI NAVAL AIR FACILITY, Japan — There’s something about a west Texas upbringing that leaves an indelible mark on a person.

That distinction helped two air wing sailors become close friends nearly a decade after leaving their small Texas towns, and ending up around the world in the same Navy strike fighter squadron.

Petty Officer 1st Class Joe Lovelace, 31, an aviation machinist’s mate, hails from Abernathy, Texas — a few miles from Lubbock, Texas — with a population of about 2,400.

Petty Officer 1st Class Jorge Gonzalez, 28, an aviation ordnanceman, is from New Deal, Texas, located between Abernathy and Lubbock, with a population of about 1,500.

Their lives have an uncanny sameness: they both made E-6 this year and previously were the top-ranked E-5s in their squadron; they’re both married with two children; both want to become limited-duty officers, a special officer advancement program for enlisted sailors; and both hope to retire in Texas, but somewhere a little farther east where it’s not quite so dry, they say.

The two met about 1½ years ago, shortly after joining Strike Fighter Squadron 102, located at the time in Lemoore, Calif. Their wives made the connection while chatting at a spaghetti dinner.

The sailors then sought each other out and became fast friends.

“There was so much irony about us meeting,” Lovelace said. “It’s crazy to us that we meet each other this far away.”

A few months ago, the entire squadron moved to Atsugi from California to replace outgoing Fighter Squadron 154.

Now they’re neighbors who share a yard. They’re friends, their wives are friends and their youngest kids are best buddies.

It was a surprise when they met but it’s a greater surprise how close they’ve become. They still talk about things back home, such as the Waterburger chain and Brady’s Dairy Queen. Growing up they each watched the other’s high school sports team play.

“It’s definitely a conversation piece,” Lovelace said. “We’re all about Texas.”

That commonality ends, however, as soon as they talk college sports. While Gonzalez is a Texas Tech Red Raiders fan, Lovelace follows the University of Texas Longhorns.

“I think that’s the only thing we don’t agree about,” Lovelace said.

The two Texans say it isn’t so unusual finding someone from the same hometown in the military. But it’s unusual to find two people in the same small unit who are so alike.

“We really believe our upbringing has had a lot of effect on our work ethic and our success here,” Lovelace said. “When you’re raised in west Texas you’re raised a certain way. We realized that after we got to know each other.”

Gonzalez agreed. “We put that ethic to work here.”

Before their recent promotions, they were the top two ranked E-5 sailors in their squadron. They have similar goals, backgrounds, upbringing and future plans.

They share stories of home, but only Lovelace’s wife, Christie, can truly bring home to Japan.

“My wife does a good job bringing back old Texas recipes, or putting the flavor of Texas in our house,” Lovelace said.

Gonzalez, whose wife, Sara, is from California, isn’t quite there yet.

“Mine’s learning,” he joked.

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