Monday, April 16, 2012

Army Names Fort Bliss Soldier Family Care Center In Memory of SPC Hugo V. "Doc" Mendoza

On Thursday April 12, 2012 the Army held a Memorial Naming Ceremony at Fort Bliss/Biggs Airfield, TX to rename the Soldier Family Care Center to the "SPC Hugo V. Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center" in memory of SPC Hugo "Doc" Mendoza. SPC Mendoza was killed in action in Afghanistan on October 25, 2007.  The 143,000 square foot clinic is the largest free standing clinic in the Army.

SPC Hugo V. Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center

It could not have been a more beautiful day for the ceremony.  As you can see from the photo above, the sky was blue.  The temperatures were moderate.  There was a bit of a breeze from time to time.

SPC Mendoza was killed in action on October 25, 2012 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan while tending to his wounded battle buddies during an ambush during Operation Rock Avalanche. 

SPC Hugo Mendoza in Afghanistan during OEF VIII

SPC Mendoza enlisted in the U.S. Army on 31 May 2005.  During his time in service, he completed Basic Infantry Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Medical Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. On 6 March 2006, SPC Mendoza reported to his first duty station at Caserma, Ederle, Vicenza, Italy. He was assigned to the 173d Airborne Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry – The ROCK.   SPC Mendoza was then assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company with duty as a combat medic in Battle Company.   He immediately found his home among the combat warriors of 1st Platoon – The Celts.   SPC Mendoza trained, deployed and fought side by side with his band of brothers in support of OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM VIII.   SPC Mendoza distinguished himself in The ROCK as a heroic medic, charismatic Paratrooper, and an overall altruistic human being.

On October 25, 2007 as the paratroopers were making their way back to the KOP (Korengal Outpost) when they were ambushed by the enemy (use right and left arrows to see more about the ambush).  The enemy had set up a classic "L" shaped ambush in anticipation of the paratroopers.  SPC Mendoza, while not shown in the slides at the link above, was wounded almost immediately but continued to both return fire and treat the wounded until he succumbed to his wounds.

As the Army band and the high school choir played and sang the Nation Anthem a huge gust of wind came barreling through the venue.  The wreath in front of the speaker's podium slammed face first into the ground. Then the tents were lifted off the ground. The poles came loose from the tents in a couple of places. Some Soldiers ran to secure the tents to keep them from slamming down on the crowd. No one (other than the Soldiers securing the tents) seemed to move and the choir never missed a note. I have to confess that the hair on my neck stood up. The ceremony continued with a few much less strong gusts from time to time. After the ceremony was over all of the paratroopers were in agreement that the blast of wind was Hugo checking in to say "all is well". An incredibly poignant moment.

COL (Dr) Bruce Adams, the outgoing chief of medical staff at William Beaumont Army Medical Center spoke at the ceremony.  He said,
"Soldiers join the Army to serve the nation," Adams said. "Medics join the Army to serve soldiers. It's a sacred bond." It took a year and a half to get this honor for Mendoza approved by the Army, Adams said.  Three criteria had to be met to have the clinic named after him -- display distinguished service, have a local connection and be a doctor, nurse or medic." 

COL Adams also said about SPC Mendoza, "The El Pasoan exemplified what it means to be a combat medic."

COL (Dr) Bruce Adams

After COL Adams spoke SSG Sal Giunta, who served with SPC Mendoza and was in the ambush that fateful day, spoke about Hugo.  In part, Sal said, "I promise you he was an honest-to-goodness hero," said Salvatore Giunta, a former Army staff sergeant and a Medal of Honor recipient who attended the ceremony. "And he was a great man.  Seeing Mendoza have a medical clinic named after him is "bittersweet," said Giunta.

"He was the type of man who wanted to do good things for other people," said Giunta.   "He's no longer here to do that, and we'll now have to step up and live our lives by helping others out and treating people with respect like he did."

SSG (r) Sal Giunta - Medal of Honor Recipient for his actions on the same day that SPC Mendoza was killed by the enemy

After COL Adams and SSG Giunta finished their remarks they accompanied Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza and SPC Mendoza's two brothers to the beautiful garden in front of the Soldier Family Care Center to unveil the plaque honoring SPC Mendoza.

Mendoza family unveiling the plaque

The plaque located in the garden outside the center

Plaque in the garden

Then the Soldiers in attendance who had served with SPC Mendoza unveiled the wall in the garden.

SSG Sal Giunta, Chris Izell, John Michem, Chris Shelton and Kyle Zaski unveiled the wall

The crowd was invited to move into the lobby of the center for the remainder of the ceremony.  Once inside the following collage was unveiled:

Collage of portraits and replica of the plaque in garden outside in the lobby of the SPC Hugo V Mendoza Soldier Family Care Center

During the reception held afterwards there were many interviews by the media with SPC Mendoza's family and battle buddies.

Hugo's oldest brother, Carlos, talking to the media

"Even though he didn't have a family of his own, he was very family-oriented," Carlos Mendoza said. "He treated my three kids like they were his own. He never missed a birthday, a holiday, a Christmas -- not until 2007."

His brother wanted to be a firefighter, and he joined the Army to get medical training, Carlos Mendoza said.   "He thought that was one path to do that," he said.

Hugo Mendoza was also a man of tremendous faith, his brother said. "He believed in God, had his Bible and always read it," Carlos Mendoza said.

The Mendoza family didn't pursue this honor, he added. "It was presented to us by the military," he said. "They must have seen something in him, too."

A couple of Hugo's battle buddies had this to say about him:
Former SGT Kyle Zaski of Grand Rapids, Mich., said Mendoza was "fearless" and "never hesitated to do his job, even when under fire."

Former SPC Chris Izell of Austin said Mendoza was a "good guy" whom everybody liked. "I never heard anyone ever say anything bad about him," Izell said. "He had a great sense of humor, very down to earth. He's still one of the best soldiers I've ever known."

The program:

Cover of Program

Inside front

Inside back - so touching and poignant

Back Cover

The 2-503d Battalion OEF VIII Paratroopers sent this wreath in honor and remembrance of SPC Mendoza.  After the ceremony his family, accompanied by his battle buddies, took the wreath to his grave site.

In Remembrance from the ROCK

It was such an honor and privilege to be present for this.  The Mendoza family is one of the most loving and accepting families I have ever met.  I am happy for them that some of the Soldiers who were with Hugo that fateful day were able to attend as well as the large number of the Mendoza's family and friends from California, Arizona and Texas.  Most of all I am happy that the Army chose to honor SPC Mendoza by naming the Soldier Family Care Center in his memory so that his name will live on forever even to those who didn't know him.

Rest in Peace Hugo.  You will certainly never be forgotten

1 comment:

SueLaubach said...

May God bless all of our American military. What a sacrifice they make for us all, even giving their own lives as Hugo has. What an honor. The Mendoza family should be so proud! God bless them all.
With my deepest respect,
Sue Laubach