By Rob McIlvaineJanuary 18, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, Jan. 18, 2012) -- Raul Mendoza officiates football all over south Texas, from Pop Warner up through high school, but his favorite game is the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
At the Alamodome, he gets the chance to not only work the game but also to help wounded warriors and the best student-players from across the country in a pregame competition that has his heart and, he hopes, the heart of the country.
For a dad who lost his son to war, this may be understandable. But Mendoza wants to remind those without a military connection to get involved, even if it means simply saying, "thank you for your service."
"Some people may call it the forgotten part of the war, you know? When my son, Sergeant Matthew Elias Mendoza, based out of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms in Caklifornia was killed, he was part of that group of 2,400 who were sent over (to Afghanistan) when the Marines went back over there," Mendoza said. "If there's any kind of tragedy that's coming out of this, as far as the American public is concerned -- not enough people take the time to get involved."
The event during the week before the bowl game, he said, was kind of like an agility test -- where the wounded warriors and players competed against each other in kicking, passing and punting.
"It's about being around the kids, the up and coming talent, said Mendoza, who is a member of the San Antonio Chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials. "I think this is really great what's going on (here today) with the wounded warriors and the high school players coming out and playing with them. It gives these guys an opportunity to come out and do things they haven't been able to do in quite a while, probably since high school," Mendoza said.
"I did this last year and it was a lot of fun," he said. "I wasn't going to miss it this year."
Most of the wounded warriors at this competition come to Brooke Army Medical Center on Fort Sam Houston for a year, with some staying up to three or four years.
"When you start to go out and do something for them, they wind up doing more for you than you could ever for them," Mendoza explained. "They give you their strength and their determination, their resolve. It helps you become a stronger person."
But, he understands that unless there's a direct involvement, the results of war have no real effect.
"Or like my son and his friends who were killed -- unless you're involved with some kind of issue like that, it has no real effect on you because we can walk across the street and go to the Rivercenter Mall and go do whatever we want to do," Mendoza said. "Meanwhile, (over in Afghanistan) it's still going on over there."
"When the Marines went out, when my son went back to Afghanistan, along with the Army personnel, that small group inflicted more casualties on the enemy than the previous five years by all combination of the coalition forces," he continued. "I mean the strides they made in about one year, between the middle of 2008 and 2009, has been tremendous. I had the opportunity to talk to my son a few times before he was killed, and the things that go on over there, we couldn't believe."
One story his son told him stayed in his mind. Imagine, he said, waking up in the morning and wanting to send your child to school, only to find out this isn't possible because the school was blown up and all the teachers killed.
Americans, he said, have freedom in advance. But there's always somebody who has to pay for that freedom.
"And with freedom comes responsibility," said Mendoza. "So, I think if more Americans took the initiative and the responsibility to step up, even if it's only one step -- whatever you can do. You see a Soldier, a Sailor or Marine at the airport, you may be watching him but he's counting his money -- he may barely have enough to eat. Well then, you know what?"
"Go over there and pay for his meal. Buy him a newspaper. Or if he's looking at a DVD he wants to watch, pick it up and go buy it for him. Because the debt we owe to our servicemen and women from the beginning of our country, especially this last century, up until now ... we owe a debt we can never fully repay, no matter what we do, so anything we do is better than nothing," Mendoza said.
"My son comes from a Marine Corps family, basically -- my dad -- who first enlisted in the Army and later switched over to the Marines; my wife's dad, and I've got three cousins in the Marines. My grandfather was attached to a Marine Corps unit on Okinawa. He was with the 77th Reserve out of New York," he said.
Mendoza knows it's easy to forget, especially with the war winding down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not being able to know who served when and where."
San Antonio, known as Military City USA, he said, is the town that has more connection and shows more support than any other for one reason.
"If you're downtown or you're at the mall, you see these wounded warriors. I mean you see them throughout the country, but when you see them in a group or you see three or four guys walking through the mall, I see it all the time where total strangers will go up and thank them for their service. It gives you a sense of pride coming from a town that really appreciates our military," he said.
"And if you only do something for one weekend, one afternoon, or one morning -- go out there and go see and meet some of these men and women for everything they've given up for us," Mendoza said.