Community Profile: Coach of the Year
November 15, 2008
For Sgt. 1st Class Agustin Mendez, commitment to his Family and the Army continues to bring him opportunities to touch the lives of others.
In January 2008, Army officials selected Mendez as the 2007 Army Coach of the Year. Although Mendez is the All Army soccer coach, the Coach of the Year honor goes to the best coach of all Army sporting programs. A panel of judges considered athletic endeavors, military accomplishments and community service.
Mendez is a chaplain's assistant at the Yongsan Religious Retreat Center, where he also serves as the noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
His path to the United States Army was unlikely. Born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, he became a professional soccer player at the age of 15. For 15 years, he played at the top of this game. In 1989, he traveled to the U.S. to play semi-pro soccer; however, a funny thing happened on the way to practice.
"I met an Army recruiter in Los Angeles," Mendez said. "I ended up calling my coach and telling him I had enlisted in the Army."
Mendez became an infantryman. He soon was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Fort Ord, Ca.
"When I got to my first duty station, my first commander was a soccer fanatic; he was the one who actually got me involved in the All Army program," Mendez explained.
He never missed a field problem or deployment. "I'm a Soldier first," he proudly says.
His Army career has brought him all over the world. Fifteen years ago, he changed his Army job to chaplain's assistant. He's also been stationed at Camp Red Cloud, Republic of Korea; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Bliss, Texas; Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Meyer, Va.; and now Yongsan.
Throughout his career, he's been an Army athlete and coach.
"In 1995, the Director of Army Sports asked me to build a soccer program for the Army," Mendez said. "The Air Force used to dominate the sport."
Mendez worked as an assistant All Army coach for three years before becoming "the coach." Since then, the Army has been the dominating force in military soccer. "The All Army team has won silver or gold since 2000," he said.
But, Mendez is quick to point out the honor of being Army Coach of the Year is not about him. "It's not only me, it's a team effort," he said. "People work together. I look at all the applications from potential Army athletes and I call and talk with previous coaches. The first three years, it was kind of hard. But right now, I have a pool of about 200 soldiers all over the world."
In January, Mendez will go to Fort Eustis, Va. to coach 30 top Army players. "We have to cut that number down to 18 in a week in a half, and then we'll go to the Armed Forces Soccer Tournament."
The Armed Forces Soccer Tournament will give the All Army team a chance to play six games in eight days against the other services. Mendez says he is looking forward to the challenge.
"I've been involved in the program for 20 years," he said. "In fact, I'm the first Armed Forces player/coach to be involved in the program for 20 years."
Mendez also coaches youth, football, basketball, baseball and soccer wherever he is stationed.
"When I take on something, I commit," he said. "With the All Army Soccer Team, even though we only get together one month in January, I follow it all year long."
Mendez says soccer is more than just a game. "It teaches kids about life," he said. "When I'm coaching kids, I have them there for two hours, so I talk to them about not doing drugs, or not smoking, I throw that stuff at them because I have kids of my own."
Mendez says his family is his inspiration. Two and a half years ago, his 13-year-old son passed away. "He loved sports, his memory keeps me going," he said. "Not only in sports, but in everything I do. I have three other kids and I just want to make sure they never forget they had a brother."
Mendez also praises his wife. "If it wasn't for my wife, I wouldn't be able to do what I do," he said. "All my success is because of her, not only coaching, but being in the Army."
Finally, Mendez said his support from the chain of command is unparalleled. "I'm about to retire next year," he said. "I want to stay Army. I love the Army."
Mendez is also the soccer coach for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, USAG-Yongsan team. "We won the post championship three weeks ago, beating MEDDAC in the final," he said. "We didn't take 8th Army, but we gave it a good shot."
Mendez says his goal is to be a positive influence on others. "Just like I am committed to being a Soldier, I put everything into it," he said.