Veteran Spotlight: Air National Guard Maj. David Mendoza
SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. — David Mendoza served his country in the Air National Guard from 1985 to 2014, retiring as a major.
He grew up in Hampden and graduated from what was then North Adams State College. His dad had four years active service during the Vietnam War era.
Mendoza did his basic, Air Force training school, at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and remembered it this way; "It was pretty humbling, you're used to calling the shots and someone does that for you now — when to eat, get up, go to bed."
"They're trying to show you military routines and customs," he said. "Service before self."
His first assignment would take him to Myrtle Beach AFB in South Carolina, where he worked in base services. When asked about a mentor he didn't hesitate for second – Maj. Gen. Dick Platt.
"The example he set ... he was great at sharing real-world experiences. He had an uncanny knack of remembering names and a firm believer of taking care of your men," he recalled with admiration.
Mendoza's first and only deployment came in January 2003 when he served in Operation Enduring Freedom (which later transitioned into Operation Iraqi Freedom).
"Because of the 9/11 experience, it really hit home," he said. "I lost my best friend from high school in the Twin Towers. My mindset completely changed as I had such a desire to serve. I worked with civil engineers and actually built a bare base," he recalled with pride.
When I asked about the holidays he came back with this: "It was somewhat challenging. We had minimal communication. From a leadership standpoint we tried to provide some niceties for the troops, try to get things to make their lives a little easier — hot meal as opposed to MREs, things like that."
I asked Mendoza what were the challenging aspects he faced during his service.
"I'd have to say mortuary officer, next-of-kin notification," he recalled. "I had an individual take his life. The chaplain and I had to travel to meet with the parents. That piece can really wear on you.
"Out of all my jobs, that was the most challenging. I worked with some really inspiring chaplains and my staff was just awesome."
Mendoza shared this story. "One thing that always bothered me was the anxiety I saw in the family's faces prior to deployment of their son or daughter. I remember a wife whose husband was a bit older and she took my arm and said, 'please bring my husband back home alive.' That still gets to me."
The hardest moment, Mendoza said, was when he received notification that a good friend had died.
"I wanted to cry so bad but had to maintain my professionalism and conduct services in the appropriate manner," he said.
Thoughts on service to his country?
"Unbelievably proud. I thoroughly enjoyed serving and would have stayed in longer but I missed so much of my kids' lives," he said. "I didn't want to miss any more of my wife and children's lives."
Maj. Dave Mendoza, thank you for your service to our great country.
Wayne Soares is the host of the popular new veterans cooking show, "The Mess Hall" firstname.lastname@example.org our troops around the globe and is the host and producer of the Vietnam veterans documentary "Silent Dignity – The Chapter That Never Ends." He can be reache
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