John Mendez's military service sent him as far away as Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now, his service to the homeless here in Montgomery County will put him before President Barack Obama to hear the State of the Union Address.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen has invited the North Bethesda resident to accompany him to tonight's address, and Mendez said the opportunity is a great honor.
"It's kind of a lifelong dream to be able to attend the State of the Union," he said. "When I got the invitation, I thought about the places I've been, the theaters of operation I've served in, and it hits home to be in this situation where you can be a part of a significant part of our democracy."
Mendez, who was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 1995, has spent the last decade working with the homeless and the past two years as an outreach specialist with Bethesda Cares.
Mendez pays particular attention to homeless veterans, and, thanks to a federal program called HUD-VASH, which provides housing vouchers for veterans, Bethesda Cares has been able to help many of the county's vets in need.
Mendez said Van Hollen was instrumental in securing vouchers for Montgomery County through the program, helping get chronically homeless veterans off the street and into homes.
Van Hollen praised Mendez's for his dedication to assisting under-served veterans.
"I'm so pleased that John Mendez will be my guest at this year’s State of the Union Address," Van Hollen said in a statement. "His service to our nation, both in the United States Marine Corps and as a tireless advocate for homeless veterans, has helped thousands of people in our community."
In 2011, Mendez was also commended by the Department of Veterans Affairs for his work with HUD-VASH, and he recently organized the Bethesda chapter of the 100,000 Homes Campaign.
The State of the Union Address will be broadcast at 9 p.m. tonight, on television and on the White House's website.