Sailors live up to ship's namesake
In 1967, Staff Sgt. Jimmie Howard was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for the courage he displayed on the night of June 15, 1966.
As the North Vietnamese began their second attack, Howard instructed his men to throw rocks at them. Thinking the rocks were grenades, the North Vietnamese quickly jumped out from under their cover. Once in clear sight, Howard's men fired on them. During the second attack, Howard was shot in the back. Unable to move his legs, he continued to direct his men from a single spot on top of Hill 488, while calling in air attacks with unbelievable accuracy.
The battle on Hill 488 cost Howard the lives of seven of his men and injuries to all but one of the rest of them. But it also made a bold and resonating statement to the North Vietnamese - American Marines and Sailors could literally laugh in the face of death and were willing to fight by any means possible to remain victorious and die in the name of freedom.
Today, USS Howard (DDG 83), commissioned in 2001, is the 33rd Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in the U.S. Navy. The crew is committed daily to living up to the legacy of her namesake and embodying the same qualities Howard once did on the battle field.
Fast, reliable, and always ready for a fight, Howard is known by many on the San Diego waterfront as the ship the fleet turns to when it needs something done. Like the Medal of Honor recipient, Howard is powered by the courage, selfless leadership, skill and camaraderie among the crew who operates her.
This is the story of the crew who keeps Howard powered.
Keeping the Lights On
Chief Petty Officer Blu Mendoza is about five and half feet tall, but his presence is as energizing as the electricity he works with aboard Howard. As part of the electrical division of engineering department, he is responsible for the training, welfare and sailorization of seven Sailors. It's not a job Mendoza takes lightly.
"If it weren't for the great leadership I've experienced, I probably wouldn't still be in the Navy," Mendoza said while talking about former chiefs and leading petty officers he's had during his 17 years in the Navy. "I have to be that person for my guys. I have to be the mentor, the parent, and the sibling, and I have to still make sure they know what they're doing and that they get it done. I also have to be concerned with what my Sailors are doing in their personal lives, and I have to be there to help them if they need it."
Training and mentorship is a vital piece to Mendoza's job; it's how he starts every day aboard. Whether reading the plan of the day to his division, devising and distributing the work load or holding daily trainings, he is actively involved in helping his Sailors find out what they are supposed to be doing and where and when those tasks need to be done.
"The engineering department is what keeps Howard powered," Mendoza said with a laugh. "I mean, we literally keep the ship running. What roles don't we play? What if there was no heat on the ship? No air conditioning? Nothing to cool down all of the computer and weapons consoles, or heat the food and water? Without us, there is nothing."
Mendoza might sound a little bit cocky, but maybe that's because engineering could be seen as the heartbeat of the ship, and his Sailors are the heart.
"I know he cares about us," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Marilyn Ortiz, one of Mendoza's Sailors. "He's always bragging about our division, or trying to set us up for success. Whether it's writing Sailor of the Quarter or Sailor of the Year packages, pushing us to get qualified or prepping us for boards - he does it all."
Ortiz described Mendoza as someone who is highly active in the command, both on a departmental level, and a ship-wide level. He's a member of the ship's Damage Control Training Team, the Moral, Welfare, and Recreation committee, and is often times seen troubleshooting equipment or trying to fix something new.
"He's always switching roles to set an example for us," Ortiz said. "Other people might reach a standard and stay there. He reaches standards and then sets new ones, both for himself and for us. He's always trying to raise the bar."
For Mendoza, pushing himself and his Sailors is simply what being attached to Howard is all about.
I feel a real sense of pride for serving on this ship." - Chief Blu Mendoza
"This isn't our job - it's our lifestyle," he said. "This isn't something you can just come off the street and do. On Howard, we have pride in our culture and in our lifestyle."