By Dalia Díaz
LAWRENCE, MA -- The Lawrence City Council will be considering the appointment of Retired Sergeant First Class Jaime L. Melendez, Jr. who was Mayor William Lantigua's choice as Director of Veterans Services.
Sgt. Melendez was born in Lawrence, attending grammar school in this city and later graduating from high school in Puerto Rico.
"My Spanish is not as good as I want it to be because I've spent too many years in the Army traveling all over the world but I'm sure it will get better now," he told me confidently.
Sgt. Melendez went on to tell me how he entered active duty service on November 9, 1988. Sergeant First Class Melendez completed basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas and his Military Occupational Specialty of Health Care Specialist training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Being in the medical field of the service put him in the middle of the battle caring for injured soldiers. In fact, the saddest incident that still affects him was when his radio operator was killed.
"The medic and the radio operator work very close together and to have him killed next to me was something I will remember for the rest of my life," he confessed with sorrow in his eyes.
He then attended Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia. His training has afforded Sergeant First Class Melendez the opportunities to be stationed at various locations with numerous assignments and responsibilities being one of them Operation Just Cause in Panama.
That deployment earned him a Purple Heart Medal when his parachute failed to open. He sustained an injury to his right leg but wrapped tape around his boot and continued to secure the airport and once the mission was accomplished his superior took a look at his leg, only to find that the damage was severe. He was sent to a hospital in San Antonio, Texas and right in his bed he was awarded the Purple Heart Medal.
He understands the difficulties encountered by military people returning from battle and many have problems adjusting to a normal life. His most memorable detail of this adaptation process was when he was impacted by so much color.
"After being surrounded by sand and fatigues, colors seem brighter," Sgt. Melendez explained.
That medal joined many more honors and awards obtained through his 23-year career serving in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, multiple countries in South and Central America, the Caribbean and Iraq.
Sergeant First Class Melendez's civilian and military education include an Associate's Degree in General Studies, the Warrior Leaders Course and completing it as the Distinguished Honor Graduate, Advanced Leaders Course, Senior Leaders Course, Drill Sergeant School, the First Sergeants Course at the United States Army Sergeants Major Academy in Fort Bliss, Texas and the Army Safety Course.
"I told my friends in Tennessee that I have a job in the city where I was born and grew up," said Melendez proudly. "It is an honor for me to come back to serve my fellow veterans! I know I have big shoes to fill," he was referring to the former Veterans Director Francisco Ureña.
"If I do half of what he did I'll be happy; but I'll work hard to be as good, if not better."