SSgt Cristina E. Mendez
Hometown: Bloomfield, NJ.
Died: Apr 23, 2016
Unit: 71st Security Forces Squadron at Vance Air Force Base, Okla.
VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Air Force Staff Sgt. Cristina Mendez was remembered by those who knew her as a dedicated and passionate young lady with a positive attitude and a beautiful, infectious smile. After a ceremony Monday morning renaming the visitor’s center at Vance Air Force Base in her honor, she will be remembered by airmen and civilian visitors to Vance for years to come.
The center was officially renamed the Mendez Visitor Control Center. Monday was the first anniversary of Mendez’ death in a motorcycle accident in Eastern Oklahoma. Vance officials, and members of the Mendez family, unveiled a plaque in her honor on the front of the visitor’s center.
Lt. Col. John Sackett, a chaplain, lauded Mendez for her sense of duty and her love of country.
“With Cristina there was never adversity, only challenges to overcome,” said Sackett. “May this renaming be a memorial to that kind of airman forever.”
Maj. Christopher Jackson, commander of the 71st Security Forces Squadron, recalled Mendez’s love of pranks and practical jokes. He credited his being late to Monday’s ceremony due to a missing wallet, to her.
“I’m convinced she had something to do with that,” said Jackson. He also told of the memorial service held for her last May 5 on base. It was a hot day, and the soles of the shoes of then Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Long, a member of the Silver Talon Honor Guard, melted to the pavement just before the ceremony. Jackson sent his wife to the Airman’s Attic thrift store on base to get another pair of shoes, size 9. She found them, but they turned out to be women’s size 9 shoes, which Long wore throughout the ceremony.“She (Mendez) got us on both days,” said Jackson. “That just speaks to how she was.”
Mendez worked as a clerk in the visitor’s center, among other duties at Vance. She served two deployments, one to Afghanistan and the other to the United Arab Emirates. She received the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal, and was named Vance’s 71st Mission Support Group Airman of the Year for 2012.
“What her records do not capture was her charisma, which was felt by all when she entered the room,” said Jackson. “She never backed down from a challenge or a practical joke. No matter what the circumstance, she had your back. “Cristina was loved by all and mourned by hundreds of people. I still hear her name spoken on a daily basis in our squadron and not one day over the past year has she not crossed my mind.”
Lorena Mendez, Cristina’s older sister, thanked the men and women of Team Vance for being there not only for Cristina, but for her family.
“Thank you so much for everything, and most of all, thank you for such a beautiful way to honor my sister,” said Mendez.
©2017 the Enid News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.)