Lance Corporal Robert “Drew” Mendez, USMC

The first time Drew saw an example of the brotherhood of the Marine Corps, he was about 8 or 9 years old in his home town of Kingsville, Texas, just south of Corpus Christi.

“I was raised by my grandparents,” Drew recalls, “and they owned a bar. I used to go over there a lot in the summers, count the quarters from the pool table, help clean up, that sort of thing. My grandpa served in Korea, he was a member of the 1st Marine Division, and he used to wear a 1st Marine Division hat.

Lance Corporal Robert “Drew” Mendez and his service dog "Rambo."
Lance Corporal Robert “Drew” Mendez and his service dog “Rambo.”

Drew and Rambo
Drew and Rambo

"Thinking of you guys today! Thank you for everything you do for us and teams like us. Carrie G. you keep us pushing forward everyday without being afraid to fall because we know you're behind us."  Very Respectfully, Drew Mendez and Rambo
Drew on Facebook (click on picture):
“Thinking of you guys today! Thank you for everything you do for us and teams like us. Carrie G. you keep us pushing forward everyday without being afraid to fall because we know you’re behind us.”
Very Respectfully, Drew Mendez and Rambo

Rambo after a visit to the Vets.
Rambo after a visit to the Vets.

“Well, one day a guy comes up to my grandpa and they start talking” Drew continued. “Turns out he was 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. I didn’t quite understand it at the time, but I picked up on the brotherhood and understood how special it is that you can have something in common with a complete stranger.”

Drew signed up for the Marine Corps delayed entry program when he was 16 years old, between his junior and senior years of high school. Scheduled to graduate high school in May 2007, he was off to boot camp in San Diego, California, in March 2007—missing his high school graduation ceremony by just about a week due to training.

The half-year that followed enabled Drew to see more of the world in six months than most people get to see in a lifetime. Deployed in May 2008 as part of a MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit), Drew traveled to Hawaii, Singapore, the Red Sea, the Middle East and Australia.

“It was a great opportunity to see the world,” Drew recalls. “I was only 19. I remember we made it back to San Diego in November 2008—we landed on the day of the Presidential election.”

One month and three days later, the wonder and excitement of seeing the world would come crashing down around Drew.

“My best friend, his name was Johnny Aldridge,” Drew recalls. “We had a Sunday routine where we’d go out, get haircuts, drink coffee and get ready for the week. I went down and knocked on his door and he didn’t answer. I thought he was asleep.”

Johnny wasn’t asleep. When Drew came back later and banged on the door, he knew something was wrong. He broke into Johnny’s room to find his best friend dead from an apparent overdose.

Drew was given the honor of escorting the remains of his best friend back to Johnny’s family in Colorado. “It was like that movie, ‘Taking Chance,’“ Drew says. “I remember going through the training for it, people telling me, ‘you’re representing the entire USMC.’ That whole week, that whole experience, really taught me what it is to be a Marine—honor, courage and commitment.”

That same month—December 2008—Drew married Danielle, who had been a friend since childhood (they lived across the street from each other).

Drew volunteered to deploy to Afghanistan with the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion and found himself at Camp Leatherneck in the Helmand Province in April 2009. He returned to San Diego in July and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress (PTSD) and depression. He worked stateside as a Deputy Family Readiness Officer, but was having trouble scheduling his medical appointments in conjunction with his duties: Sometimes he’d have eight appointments in one week. “But I always completed my work,” Drew says. “It was never a problem for me.”

By August of 2010, the PTSD and depression were taking their toll, as were a pair of back injuries sustained from falling off a moving truck and lifting heavy objects. Drew checked himself into a hospital for having suicidal thoughts. Shortly after being released, he met his new best friend: Rambo, an eight-month-old service dog.

“Having a service dog was supposed to be temporary,” Drew says, “but when I laid my eyes on him it was love at first sight. I’m so grateful and thankful to have him in my life, about two or three times each day I just get trapped looking into his eyes and the love he has for me that I have to reciprocate. He has been with me every step of the way, and he has saved my life—emotionally and literally—more times than he could ever know.”

The Semper Fi Fund assisted Drew and Rambo by sending Rambo to service dog school. We’ve also assisted with Petco gift cards for dog food and pet accessories, and have assisted Drew with housing grants.

“In 2013, we moved to San Antonio and had a housing situation turn bad,” Drew recalls. “The Semper Fi Fund had reached out and helped with rent. They also helped with some emergency vet coverage for Rambo. I can testify that the money people donate to the Semper Fi Fund, it actually helps people. They have almost no overhead. They’re always there and they’ve shown it; they’re not as loud as other organizations, but they get it done.”

He is currently a full-time student at San Antonio College where he’s studying to get his associate degree in fire sciences with an emphasis on homeland security and disaster management.

“I want to be a disaster coordinator,” Drew says. “The VA doctors have said to me, ‘You’re gonna be in pain the rest of your life,’ but I haven’t let it stop me. I went to the police academy here in San Antonio and I’m waiting on a job with the sheriff’s department while I go to school. It’s been tough going, but the Semper Fi Fund has made it a lot easier for me.”