When it comes to bonds, there’s a special one that Mazda holds dear to its heart — the bond it has with military service members and their families. On September 10, Mazda North American Operations, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Chase and Building Homes for Heroes hosted three veterans and their families in Monterey, California as part of the annual Military Appreciation weekend. Held at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, this event is meant to honor military service members and their sacrifices.
During the second day of the event, the three families were brought onto the middle of the racetrack for what they thought was a chance for one of them to win a new Mazda vehicle of their choice.
“As part of Military Appreciation Day,” the announcer said, “Mazda is proud to honor these brave men and their families. Two of the men have been invited here for a 50/50 chance to be awarded a brand new vehicle of their choice, presented by Mazda.”
Army Specialist Alberto Diaz and his wife Kayla were waiting anxiously to see if they’d be the winners of a new Mazda vehicle.
In 2014, while deployed in Afghanistan, Alberto Diaz and his squad encountered a roadside bomb. Diaz was severely injured during the explosion. Later, he would receive the Purple Heart for his service, and has since been honorably discharged from the United States Military.
“I never thought I’d make it through that day, when I got the phone call about him being involved in the explosion,” Kayla Diaz said. “And now look at us. Every day I say I don’t know how I’m going to make it through. But we’re still standing here.”
Lance Corporal Arturo Webber, Mary and their one-year-old daughter, Riley, were the second family hoping to take home a new car.
Weber made the decision to enlist in the military after 9/11 and joined the Marine Corps shortly after graduating high school. While on patrol in the Al Anbar Province in Iraq, he was critically wounded when he was struck by hostile small-arms fire. Weber was awarded the Purple Heart, among other honors, for his service.
Robert Davis, senior vice president of U.S. operations for Mazda and Staff Sgt. Liam Dwyer, a military veteran and now-Mazda-racer, held a hat for the families to pick a key from.
As Alberto and Kayla Diaz hopped into one of the CX-9s, Arturo, Mary and Riley Weber hopped into the other. The winning family would have a key that would start the engine.
“OK, on the count of 5, here we go; …5,…4,…3,…2,…1,…– veterans, start your engines!”
As both cars started and the cool A/C hit their faces, the families relished they had just won a new car. In one car, Kayla Diaz dropped her head into her hands and began to cry. In the other car, Arturo and Mary Weber burst into laughter.
“Surprise! Both CX-9s have started! In recognition of your selfless service to our country, each of you is awarded a brand new Mazda vehicle of your choice. Congratulations! …But we are not finished yet…”
First Sgt. Mitchell Melott and his family were the only ones left standing from the group, as the other two families stepped out of their newly awarded vehicles.
In 2008, while Melott was checking a previous blast location, a roadside bomb exploded resulting in a leg injury that first required amputation below the knee, and a later surgery resulting from complications that required amputation above the knee. After serving in the United State Army for more than 20 years, Weber was honorably discharged in 2012 and earned many decorations, including a Bronze Star Medal and Purple Heart.
A few weeks before the Military Appreciation Weekend, Weber applied for a mortgage-free home through Building Homes for Heroes. It was at that moment that the Weber family was presented with a big blue key, symbolizing their new mortgage-free home in Hesperia, California.
The celebrations continued into the evening as the military families joined a private dinner with executives from Mazda, Building Homes for Heroes and Chase. Liam Dwyer was especially grateful to be in attendance and meet the military families.
“What I love about Mazda is that they don’t just hand over a check and call it a day,” Dwyer explained. “They are here, you see them all sitting here with you right now, which they don’t have to be doing. You may not realize it now, but you are forever part of the Mazda family. And we’re so happy to have you.”
Since its launch in 2013, the Mazda Drive for Good® program has donated more than $12.9 million, has pledged more than 192,000 charitable service hours and continues to provide monetary donations and community service throughout the year.
In addition to the in-kind vehicle donations, Mazda, through the Mazda Foundation has granted $310,000 toward building better homes for those veterans in need.
For more information on Building Homes for Heroes and the event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, click here.