U.S. Army Cpl. Teneka Mercado, a human
resource specialist assigned to the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat
Team, 1st Infantry Division, in Paktika province, Afghanistan on
September 14, 2012. Photo by Army Sgt. Gene Arnold
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan (9/15/2012) – Most of the young men
and women serving in today's armed forces were children or teenagers
on 9/11, watching the attacks on the World Trade Center on the news.
The majority of their adult lives have since been forged by the
nation's need for great men and women in uniform.
and women, the Army's newest generation of soldiers, continue to
answer the call to arms. Cpl. Teneka Mercado, a 4th Infantry Brigade
Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division soldier serving in Afghanistan,
is one of them.
“I was in seventh grade during the events of
Sept. 11, 2001, in my English class,” recalls the Camden, S.C.,
native. “I remember my teacher running into our classroom crying and
frantic. We didn't know what was going on, but we knew it was
Seven years later, Mercado was on her way to join the
fight that started that tragic day. But her path to service wasn't
always clear, and she had some life changing decisions to make along
“I went to college first for a year for mass
communications, which really didn't work out for me. My mom,
Elizabeth Dixon, was a recruiter instructor at the time and
told me the in's and out's of the Army,” said Mercado.
“I never thought that I would have joined the Army,” she
said, “but after a long conversation with my mom, she showed
me the pay charts of a mass communications major and an Army
private – they evened out.”
“I knew that if my mom
could do it for 22 years, I could follow in her footsteps. I
wanted to make an impact on our country just as she did,”
Mercado joined the Army in the summer of
2008, enlisting as a human resource specialist.
Army in turn led Mercado to another big life change. Soon
after joining, she found the love of her life, Staff Sgt.
Julian Mercado, a forward observer who is also deployed to
“Being able to serve my country gives me
an enormous sense of pride. I've never been more proud to be
an American until the day I stepped foot in Afghanistan.
It's just kind of crazy out here, but the fight still has to
continue,” she said.
Now an experienced soldier,
Mercado talked about what she's learned as a human resource
specialist at Fort Riley, Kan., and here in Afghanistan.
“One thing I've learned out here is that customer
service is always a main point for the soldiers,” said
Issues like pay problems can cause undue
stress to soldiers in combat, she said.
“We try to
remain friendly and help them as much as we can so they
don't have to worry and can continue on their mission,” she
In war there are casualties, Mercado said, and
she knows her role in that, as well.
“I know that I'm
in the first line of information when we receive casualties.
We know that their families have to be notified and it does
break your heart,” she said. “You just know that you have to
drive on, know that they're in the better place and continue
“I may not be out there fighting the
fight, but just being here supporting everybody still makes
us a part of the team,” she added.
In the end, she
describes the Army as a family. The ties and bonds built
here are strong and endless, she said.
family away from family,” said Mercado. “You'll always have
someone by your side.”
By Army Sgt. Gene Arnold
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