By Spc. Brenda Salgado Morales
Hispanic Americans have served valiantly in the United States military for decades. In recognition of their valor and accomplishments, the U.S. celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month annually as a month to honor Hispanic Americans and their contributions to American culture and history - including military history.
Here at the USO, we’re with all service members. Since 1941, the USO has been committed to supporting Hispanic Americans throughout their bravery, dedication and sacrifice that they have given to our nation as members of the military community. Our service members’ individual stories and backgrounds are what make each person serving in the military unique – and why we provide unique support to meet the needs of each service member.
Pfc. Darwing Mendoza, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, shared how his upbringing from Nicaragua to America, continues to shape his service in the U.S. Army today.
Darwing was born in Nicaragua and was brought to the United States when he was 11 years old by his mother and stepfather. He had arrived in a country that had a different culture and language. However, having escaped much hardship in Nicaragua, Darwing was happy to have relocated to the United States.
“I lived in poverty, in a third world country where I was not safe,” Darwing said. “I remember feeling so much joy knowing my mother was taking me out of that world.”
Darwing began speaking English within two years after his arrival in the U.S. As a teen, he recalled when military recruiters would visit his high school. Seeing them in their military uniforms gave him a sense of respect and pride, and he wanted to feel the same way. After getting married and the birth of his first child, Darwing felt the urgency to provide for his family. He remembered the recruiters he once met in high school and decided to enlist in the U.S. Army and become a soldier.
“I felt like I accomplished something big in my life, something bigger than myself. I don’t think people understand what Basic Combat Training is. It’s the biggest accomplishment that I’ve done for myself and my family,” Darwing said.
According to the Army, more than 160,000 Hispanic Americans serve in the total Army, making up nearly 17% of the total force. According to the Army, diversity is knowing who our people are, what value each individual brings and optimizing those talents and dedication. Darwing said he values his family and owes his hard work and constant dedication to his wife and kids.
“If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t push myself as hard as I do,“ he said . “Everything I do is for them.”
Diversity is important to the Armed Forces, and our nation’s military strives to ensure everyone is represented. According to Bishop Garrison, the senior advisor to the secretary of defense for human capital and diversity, equity and inclusion, approximately 41% of the people who serve in the military identify as members of minority groups, and the number will continue to grow. Darwing’s work and dedication to his military family does not go unnoticed by those around him in the Army. He is recognized as the best and most experienced driver in his unit.
“Pfc. Mendoza is a really good person, he’s always on time, ready to work and he brings a cheeriness to the platoon,” said Sgt. James Mullis, an infantryman assigned to Bravo Co., 2nd Bn, 23rd Inf. Reg., 1st SBCT, 4th Inf. Div.
The U.S. commemorates the sacrifice that Hispanic Americans have given to serve. A total of 44 service members of Hispanic heritage have been awarded the Medal of Honor for their dedication and sacrifice. Darwing wears the uniform with honor for his family and his fellow brothers and sisters.
“I wear this uniform with pride,” Darwing said. “I am proud to serve my country, proud to be part of this country because it reminds me of the life I once had and the freedom that I now have.”
How the USO is Supporting Service Members Like Darwing Stationed at Fort Carson
No matter where Darwing’s Army career takes him, he can always find support with the USO, including at USO Colorado on Fort Carson** which is dedicated to serving soldiers and the local military community stationed on base**.
Just like most other 250+ USO locations around the world, USO Colorado on Fort Carson offers service members and military families a plethora of free amenities such as free Wi-Fi, snacks, coffee, games and couches to relax on during downtime.
For soldiers like Darwing stationed at Fort Carson, having a place to relax and unwind when away from their stressful military duties can be essential to their wellbeing and mental health, and can have a positive impact on their daily lives and duties.
No matter where his military career takes him, soldiers like Darwing can always rely on the USO thanks to our volunteers and generous supporters.
-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited and expanded for USO.org.
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