As a youth, Army Sergeant First Class Travis Vendela tagged along with his Guardsman father to military events and weekend maneuvers. At 12, he could fieldstrip a Browning M2 .50 caliber machine gun. During his senior year, he began thinking about his future realizing he wanted to be part of something greater than himself. College did not appeal to him, but the military did. Joining the Army was an easy decision.
Vendela did one-station training and ended up as “19 Delta, Cav Scout, recon, looking for bad guys.” He was assigned to Recon Platoon 3-8 Cavalry, part of the 1st Cavalry Division. Sniper school sharpened his skills in shooting, spotting, and survival. After the 9/11 attacks, Vendela became more “Soldier focused,” working his teams hard, training relentlessly, and practicing constantly. “Once you knew you were going to deploy, everything from that point on was going to make a difference if you lived or died,” Vendela said. “Losing one of my Soldiers became my biggest fear, bringing them all home alive became my biggest responsibility.”
In February 2008, while on his third deployment in Iraq, Vendela was leading a convoy when they came across what was thought to be a dud improvised explosive device. He chose to have his Humvee driven over the item so no one else would be at risk. Unfortunately, the device exploded right under his vehicle. Badly wounded, he continued to lead his team through the incident until he lost consciousness. While others in his team were injured, Vendela’s wounds were the most traumatic. He was immediately transferred to a military hospital where he began a long recovery from wounds to his head, arms, back and legs. In the end, he lost both his legs and had to learn to function through severe memory loss and tremendous pain.
Vendela received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with “V” device for valor, but he gives them little attention, in the same manner he does the six Army Commendation Medals, four Army Achievement Medals, and many other decorations he received. Instead, he reflects on his Alive Day, the day that he “basically got blown up,” and says that the real recognition is that “all my guys from my platoon came back alive, even when I wasn’t there. They were trained well enough that when I was gone, they could keep fighting, do the mission and come back alive.”
SFC Vendela chooses to focus on the positive, not the negative, things in his life. Once home, he married and found his way back to coaching high school football – the two things he credits with truly saving his life. His wife is always reminding him of a letter he received that states, “God saved you for a reason. You don’t know what that is, and maybe you’ll never know what that is, but he saved you for a reason.”