Mazda believes in putting the same passion they have into making great cars, into giving back to the community. That’s why, in 2013, Mazda created the Mazda Drive for Good® program; officially launching a unified way for Mazda, it’s employees and dealer partners, to give back to the communities in which they do business.
For the past four years, Mazda, through the Mazda Drive for Good program, has partnered with JPMorgan Chase & Co, through Mazda Capital Services, and a veteran nonprofit organization, for a special mid-day celebration held during the annual Military Appreciation Weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
This year, Mazda and Chase partnered with Operation Homefront to select three deserving families for a weekend getaway in Monterey, including a special celebration at the track, honoring each veteran for their selfless service to their country. During the celebration, Mazda, Chase, and Operation Homefront surprised two of the families with a brand new Mazda of their choice, and the third family with a mortgage-free home from Chase.
The track celebration took place on Saturday, September 23, and began with all three military families making their way onto the track at Mazda Raceway.
U.S. Marine Staff Sergeant Ricardo Mendez and U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Don DeGuzman and their families waited anxiously as the sound of the military band echoed through the stands. The announcer gathered the attention of the crowd and began explaining the special significance of the weekend, introducing the veterans that we being honored on this special weekend.
San Diego native Ricardo Mendez joined the Marine Corps eight years ago, serving as motor transport operator and rose to the rank of sergeant, responsible for operations and maintenance of tactical and commercial motor vehicles. Deployed twice to Afghanistan in 2010 and 2012, he sustained post-traumatic stress from both deployments. Ricardo medically retired with an honorable discharge in May 2016. For Ricardo and his wife Adriana, living at the Operation Homefront Transitional Housing Village allowed them to transition smoothly into civilian life.
Don DeGuzman began his Navy career 17 years ago as an aviation mechanic. He rose to the rank of petty officer first class, maintaining aircraft power systems and fuel control operations. Over an 11-year period, Don deployed seven times to the Western Pacific region. In 2008, he was deployed to Afghanistan, and it was during this combat deployment that he sustained post-traumatic stress. In 2016, he medically retired with an honorable discharge. Don, his wife Leanne, and family also moved into the Operation Homefront Transitional Housing Village to reduce their debt and come up with a successful transition plan. The DeGuzman family now rents a home in San Diego and Don is attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
As both men stood on the track along with Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray I. Jr., they were accompanied by Senior Vice President of Special Projects for Mazda, Robert Davis and Former Marine Staff Sgt. and Mazda racecar driver, Liam Dwyer, who lost his leg to an improvised explosive device while deployed to Afghanistan.
“On behalf of Mazda, Robert and Liam would like to thank Staff Sergeant Mendez and Petty Officer 1st Class DeGuzman and their family for their selfless service to our country,” said the announcer. “In honor of their Challenger Spirit, they ask the families to please accept a token of appreciation…”
The silks slowly came off the cars and the announcer revealed that both families have been gifted a brand-new Mazda vehicle of their choice.
“This is amazing. Thank you to Operation Homefront, Chase, and Mazda,” Ricardo Mendez said. “This means that I will have a dependable car and not have to struggle to get by. It’s one less burden we don’t have to worry about.”
“I really feel appreciated, this is life changing,” Don said. “It is really going to help out financially because our car is almost done, so, it will help us out tremendously.”
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Toure Williams and his family were still waiting on the track, while the other two veterans received keys to Mazda vehicles.
Toure Williams joined the military after learning he was going to be a father to a baby girl. Wanting to provide for his growing family, he enlisted in the Army in Neptune, New Jersey in 2004. He rose to the rank of staff sergeant as a heavy equipment operator and team leader overseeing construction projects. While deployed to Afghanistan in 2013, Toure sustained injuries and was honorably discharged in 2016. Due to his injuries, which resulted in a three-year stay at Walter Reed Military Medical Center, Toure and his family have struggled financially.
Earlier this year, Toure applied for a mortgage-free home through Operation Homefront. While on track, Chase and Operation Homefront presented the Williams family with the Chase blue key, representing their new mortgage-free home in Jackson, New Jersey, which was generously donated by JPMorgan Chase & Co.
“It’s our biggest dream to get a home of my own,” Toure said. “This is a new beginning, something that we as a family can work on together, make our own home that we have dreamed of. Thank you very much, Operation Homefront, Chase, and Mazda - I appreciate everything you have done for me and my family.”
“This moment is just as special for us as is it for our veterans,” said Robert Davis, senior vice president of special projects for Mazda. “These Mazda vehicles are a small token of our appreciation and a way to say thank you to our veterans for their invaluable service to our country. We are honored to be here with them this weekend.”
"I am extremely grateful to have such amazing partners, like Chase and Mazda, share our commitment to building strong, stable and secure military families,” said Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray, Jr., President and CEO of Operation Homefront. “By working together, we are able to give them a real opportunity to thrive, not simply struggle to get by, in the communities -- our communities -- they have worked so hard to protect.”
Since its launch in 2013, the Mazda Drive for Good program has donated more than $18 million, pledged more than 260,000 charitable service hours and continues to provide monetary donations and community service throughout the year.
For more information on Operation Homefront and the event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, click here.
Don DeGuzman and his son, Gavin, check out a Mazda CX-5, after learning they will be getting a free vehicle from Mazda.
Ricardo Mendez and his wife Adriana sit inside a Mazda CX-9, after learning they will be getting a free vehicle from Mazda.
Toure Williams and his wife Felisa join Liam Dwyer on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.
Representatives from Mazda, Chase and Operation Homefront wait for the announcement to begin. From left to right: Robert Davis, SVP of special assignments from MNAO; David Bialy, VP of marketing strategy at JP Morgan Chase; Elaine Wong, VP, brand manager for Mazda Capital Services; Liam Dwyer, veteran and Mazda race car driver; Brig. Gen. (ret.) John I. Pray I. Jr., CEO of Operation Homefront.
Ricardo Mendez and his wife Adriana speak with John Doonan, director of Mazda Motorsports.
Ricardo Mendez and his wife Adriana stand next to a 2017 Mazda CX-9.
Toure Williams and his wife Felisa stand with their family after getting the Chase blue key to their mortgage-free home.