News: Going the extra mile: Langley airman shares life lessons
LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. - “I was honored to be the one to carry his casket. To me, folding his flag was the closest I could get to saying goodbye.”
While serving on the Langley Air Force Base Honor Guard, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Matthew Mendez, 633rd Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels distribution operator, requested to be a pallbearer at the funeral of Senior Airman Ozziyel Nunnally, former 633rd LRS fuels distribution operator - and close friend of Mendez.
Mendez’s ultimate act of wingmanship was indicative of his commitment to go the extra mile, something he gleaned from mentors throughout his life.
Mendez’s foundation for excellence and selflessness began with his father, who instilled responsibility and the ability to know what is right, not only for himself but for his family. He said his dad showed him true selflessness and dedication by sacrificing quality time to provide for his family.
“I [learned from] what my father did for us [as a family] … [to] help me to be the man I am today,” he said.
Mendez said the lessons of dedication his father taught him influenced him to join the U.S. Air Force — a decision he made to demonstrate commitment to his country and family.
After arriving at Langley AFB, his first duty station, Mendez said he found mentors to assist in guiding him down a positive career path, including Nunnally, who provided him with helpful problem-solving skills and work knowledge.
“Nunnally taught me a lot about our job when I first got here,” said Mendez. “Since he worked in the control center, he would help me anytime I had a question [while fueling].”
Tech. Sgt. Jason Karras, former 633rd LRS fuels distribution noncommissioned officer in charge, was another mentor Mendez attributes his success to. Karras provided him with additional duties, allowing Mendez the opportunity to take charge of his career.
“Mendez is very eager and enthusiastic; the type of mentality we like to see in an airman,” said Karras. “When [important] opportunities come up, he is typically one of the first airmen we [think of].”
According to Mendez’s leadership, within his first year in the Air Force, he showed potential in his career field and demonstrated high levels of professionalism. Mendez showcased his attention to detail during an inspection when he noticed a discrepancy on the placement of a fire extinguisher while on the flight line, causing a potential hindrance for the retardant to reach the aircraft in the event of a fuel fire. This vital correction was something inspectors had not witnessed during prior inspections at other bases.
“He is the kind of airman that will put forth the effort - a self-motivator,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Lasher, 633rd LRS fuels laboratory supervisor. “Other airmen look [up] to him as a role model.”
Because of his dedication to excellence, Mendez was then selected to refuel Air Force One during President Barack Obama’s stop at Langley AFB in February 2013. As a result of all his hard work, Mendez’s leadership chose him to represent the installation in the base honor guard, said Karras.
As a result of his mentors’ guidance, Mendez began to display leadership and wingmanship qualities by mentoring fellow airmen in their skill-level upgrade training.
“He is the epitome of core values,” said Lasher. “Mendez is not afraid to stand up for what is right and he will stop to help anybody.”
The values Mendez embodies would be tested after he received a phone call from a coworker.
Nunnally, his friend and colleague, had died from injuries sustained in a car accident.
Prior to the accident, Mendez had received a text from Nunnally asking if he wanted to hang out that weekend, but Mendez already had plans with his wife.
“I still have his number in my phone, and I will never get rid of it,” said Mendez. “A lot of regret ran through me, and I wish I would have hung out with him. I didn’t know it would have been the last time.”
The following Monday, the honor guard NCOIC asked Mendez to be part of the firing party for Nunnally’s funeral. Mendez knew he wanted to honor his friend in a larger capacity, and instead asked to fold the flag in honor of his friend.
“The day of the funeral was sad and I tried not to show emotion because you have to keep your military bearing [while performing ceremonies],” said Mendez. “The toughest part for me was marching up to his casket. I had to stay strong for him.”
For Mendez, folding a flag that had flown over Langley was a more fitting tribute to his friend. The flag is a symbol of the Air Force’s appreciation for a fallen service member’s honorable and faithful service. Like Mendez aspired to do throughout his career, he put forth his best performance by striving to fold the flag perfectly - something he said Nunnally deserved.
“[Nunnally] taught me a lot. I feel like he is still here helping me help others,” Mendez said. “I hope I can take what he did for me and pass it onto someone else.”
Mendez said in losing his friend, he learned a critical life lesson - not to take things for granted. As a new father, he wants to instill that lesson in his son; as a wingman, he wants to impart this wisdom to fellow airmen.