Faces of Strength: Sgt. 1st Class Agustin Mendez
March 19, 2009
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea - Sgt. 1st Class Agustin Mendez has devoted nearly 20 years to the U.S. Army. In that time he has made tremendous achievements as a military soccer coach, lived by corps values for leading Soldiers and maintained a strong sense of family.
The family man who is a chaplain's assistant and noncommissioned officer-in-charge at the Religious Retreat Center says, "Being an NCO is pretty much like being a dad."
"You gotta coach, you gotta teach, you have to encourage, you have to discipline - So the way I see it is like being a father." Mendez said. "You have to understand each one of them; everybody has different personalities and attitudes."
"So when relating to my Soldiers," he continued, "I get to know each one of them individually - What their weaknesses and strengths are, and then you have to go with that."
Mendez said the Army has taught him a lot about the diversity and discipline required to make it in the military. "I came in at 30 with 21-year-old sergeants. That took some getting used to."
Mendez spent his first five military years as an infantryman before transitioning to a chaplain's assistant. He said leaders from his beginning years taught him to be an NCO.
"I observed different types of leaders to determine my own style during years as an E-4 and below," he said.
Moreover, he was a soccer player in the All Army Program his first six years in the military - Before the director of Army Sports asked him to build a soccer program for the Army and he became the All Army assistant coach.
"As a player, I observed different styles of coaching, which if you translate it to the Army it's the same thing," he said. "When you're lower enlisted, you have to do the same thing and observe all different types of leadership."
His observances and levels of leadership have followed him through assignments with 7th Infantry Division, Fort Ord, Calif.; 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.
Mendez said the most valuable information he can share from his service with leaders and future leaders alike is to "never judge a book by its cover."
"Being an NCO or an officer in the military, you're going to meet people," he said. "Sometimes you pre-judge because of their looks or the way they act and in the beginning you pretty much say 'well this guy's not good -- or he's okay -- or he's very good,' but sometimes you have to let it run its course. Get to know the people you work with."
Throughout his career he's been an Army athlete and coach. After two years as the All Army assistant coach he became head coach. The All Army soccer team has won four gold medals in the past 10 years and won silver medals the other six years; making All Army soccer the first service to attain a decade-long gold or silver winning streak.
The coach also prepared the U.S. Armed Forces soccer team, which is made up of all U.S. military services, and won the bronze medal in February at the North American Soccer Championships. He will head the woman's U.S. Armed Forces team in May against seven countries for the Woman's World Cup.
Mendez said he uses similar approaches as a coach as does as an NCO.
"You have to be a mediator. You have to be sometimes even a psychologist, because not everybody responds to the same form of leadership," he said. "The trick as a coach or NCO is to take everything good in an individual and use it for the better of the team."
Above his positive outlook, Mendez says nothing would be possible without the support of his chain of command, from top to bottom, and the support of his family.
"My wife and kids have endured my PCS moves nine times throughout my 20 years of service, and without complaints." The loving father also said his 13-year-old son passed away about three years ago and his memory keeps him going.
Mendez is scheduled to retire next year. "Hopefully I'll still be working closely with the Army because I believe once you're Army; you're Army for all your life."