RENTON — Armando Mejia feels right at home inside the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, where he is the community outreach assistant director for the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks.
The medically retired Army staff sergeant helps lead outreach efforts in both the Latino and military communities. The responsibilities include arranging community events, youth football camps and clinics and overseeing the team’s Heroes of 12 program.
Mejia brings service members, veterans, retirees and family members to Seahawks games — one of his favorite parts of the job.
“They can forget anything that they’ve been through and have a smile on their face and enjoy the game; it’s just powerful,” Mejia said.
Working in sports wasn’t in Mejia’s original plan, but during a 2004 deployment to Mosul, Iraq, injuries suffered from driving over an improvised explosive device in Iraq forced an audible.
Mejia was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, when the unit was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, when the truck he drove in a convoy hit the IED.
Mejia’s right foot, left arm, left knee, spine and a blown out left ear drum were injured.
Before returning to Washington state, he was moved to various military hospitals, including stops in Germany, Maryland, Texas and California.
In early 2005, Mejia was waiting in a wheelchair for one of many appointments at the JBLM Warrior Transition Battalion. While looking at informational fliers about military education opportunities, he was approached by Matthew Heatherly, then the WTB’s first sergeant.
“He would tell me, ‘What are you going to do, Mejia?’” Mejia said. “‘You can’t just sit here. You’re going to have to go to school.’”
Heatherly, who now works for Regional Health Command–Pacific, provided guidance in time management for Mejia to attend classes. He credited Heatherly and his wife, Melinda, for helping him juggle all of the educational responsibilities.
“I just pushed him in the right direction with a polite check here and there to see what he needed, but he took it and ran with it,” Heatherly said.
Mejia earned his associate’s degree on base and a bachelor’s degree in social welfare in 2008 and a master’s degree in social work in 2011 from the University of Washington-Tacoma.
Over the years, Mejia collected plenty of business cards. When he saw a job opening with the Seattle Sounders Football Club as an international outreach manager, he already had a card for Mike Flood, the vice president of community relations for both the Sounders and Seahawks.
“Networking; I can’t say that enough,” Mejia said. “You never know when you’re going to cross the bridge and they’re going to be there.”
Mejia got the job in 2012. He switched to a similar role with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and has been seen at several military-related Seahawk events at JBLM and other local military installations, such as player appearances and the 12th Man Unit change of command events.
“Armando’s connections to the military have made our programs much more engaged with service members, veterans and their families than ever before,” Flood said, who is now the VP of community outreach solely for the Seahawks.
As the team’s community outreach assistant director, Mejia said he enjoys being connected with the military. Similar job opportunities in professional sports are available for service members who are interested. Mejia suggests having multiple people look over a resume before sending it out.
He also recommends visiting teamworkonline.com, where job opportunities are posted, and attending hiring events.
“There are so many organizations that are hiring veterans,” Mejia said. “The biggest (key to success) is making sure all of your work translates to (the job’s skill set). Being in the military, you have a lot of those qualifications; it’s just how you transfer them.”