Born 16 August, 1971, Dion Cortez graduated from Lytle High School in 1989, home of the Pirates, which he says is one of his favorite teams. His other favorite team is the one he works with as an Army Medic. Dion’s parents are Ricardo and Ninfa Cortez. His dad grew up in Coalmine – which is between Lytle and Natalia – and his mom is from Natalia. Dion proudly states that his dad is a veteran of both Vietnam (1966) and Operation Desert Storm (1991). His mother was the librarian at the Lytle Public Library for 15 years. Dion has two brothers, Richard (LHS ’86) and Albert (LHS ’94).
Serving their country is a family business. Dion, his dad, his brother Richard, and his uncle all served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Dion and Richard served in the Army from 1989 to 1992. Richard retired from the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG) in 2013, and for the last twenty years, he has served as a police officer in Austin. Dion’s uncle, Henry Cortez, (his dad’s twin brother, also from Lytle) and also a Vietnam Veteran, retired from the Army in the mid 90s.
Dion joined the military right after high school, enlisting, along with his brother, Richard, as combat medics. Together, he and Richard began their basic training, and then advanced individual training (AIT), in November of 1989 at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Their first deployment was to Saudi Arabia, ultimately taking part in the first invasion of Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. Dion’s dad and uncle were also both deployed to Desert Storm and took part in the Operation.
In 1992, the brothers both finished their initial tour and came back to Texas where they joined the TXARNG, serving with the 141st Infantry Battalion as medics. In that role, together they both took part in many state emergency response efforts throughout the 90’s, mainly in the role of Guard. But the events of September 11, 2001, dramatically changed that role.
Dion’s and Richard’s unit was called up immediately to provide security at a chemical weapons depot in Arkansas. They spent a year at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Pine Bluff, AR, with A Co. 141st Infantry as part of Operation Noble Eagle. Dion explains that many Guard units around the country were also called up for similar missions or for deployment to Afghanistan. In 2006, Richard was deployed to Iraq – his last stint in the Guard – and from 2004-07, Dion worked in recruiting for TXARNG before being deployed to Iraq in 2009.
Most recently, Dion deployed as part of C Co 2-149th MEDEVAC, also known as Alamo DUSTOFF out of San Antonio, to Afghanistan in 2012-13 and to Kosovo in 2015-16. As an interesting note, Dion explains the name DUSTOFF. “Originally, it was a nickname given to US Army MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) units in Vietnam because of all the dust the aircrafts, Hueys at the time, would kick up when they landed at the landing zone. But, the name was also made into an acronym: Dedicated-Unhesitating-Service-To-Our-Fighting-Forces. US Army MEDEVAC units are commonly referred to as just DUSTOFF, and we now fly around in Blackhawks. We are named Alamo DUSTOFF, because we are from SATX.”
In his words, Dion proudly states, “Being part of US Army MEDEVAC has been a mission I have been honored to be a part of and honored to serve with so many others on what I consider one of the noblest missions in the military. Our job is getting a wounded soldier off the battlefield from the point of injury, sometimes minutes after he or she is wounded – and many times while the units on the ground are still engaged with the enemy – then providing care en route and delivering that soldier to higher levels of medical care, which will be a nearby surgical team or whatever medical assets are supporting the area.” He goes on to explain that US Army MEDEVAC soldiers are given some of the best medical training available and fly with some of the best pilots and crew chiefs in the Army, and “we all come together as a crew to perform a very critical mission for a soldier who’s probably having the worst day of his or her life.”
About these rescue missions, Dion says, “It is an amazingly gratifying feeling when everything turns out well and quite the opposite when it does not. And he adds, “I have had some of the best and worst experiences on those MEDEVAC missions; but, altogether, I am still very honored to work for and serve with the soldiers around me.” He shares from the heart that working on a team that is dedicated and focused on saving a life has been the most fulfilling experiences of his career. “The challenges we have faced together, whether in combat or in some of the high-risk training we conduct, has developed bonds and memories that do not ever fade.”
Being “kind of quiet and a little shy,” Dion humbly says that he doesn’t want to be in the spotlight or that this story is about him, but, rather, about the team “which is dedicated to a common goal.” On that note, he shares that a friend, SGT Joseph Puente, a native of Pearsall and now a resident of Devine, and Dion recently served together in Kosovo, one of many on the team. The two deployed to Kosovo together this past year where they trained with other NATO nations and with the Kosovo Security Forces. He adds, “Most importantly, we came together as a unit to continue to test our skills in preparation for future deployments.” Dion found the people of Kosovo to be very friendly and seemed grateful for the role the US plays in their short existence. “By far, [they gave] the friendliest welcome I have received in any country I have deployed to.”
Dion feels that the Alamo DUSTOFF experience in Kosovo was overall a good one where they “optimized the opportunity to train, perform the mission, and learn about the history and culture of the area.” Yet, he adds, “All of it is only a precursor to future deployments and missions to come.”
Dion, who plans to remain in the service for a few more years, expects his next assignment to be his last, after which time he plans to settle in the San Antonio area. This will place him closer to his two daughters, Taylor and Darian Cortez, who both graduated from Hays High School in Buda – 2014 and 2016. Taylor is 19 and finishing cosmetology school in San Antonio. Darian is 21 and is a senior at Texas State. Considering that both parents are soldiers – their mother also serving in the TXARNG, Dion says, “The girls turned out pretty good, all things considered. I think they have had the most to deal with the past 16 years with all the deployments and trainings.”
With all his myriad experiences serving our nation, Dion says that his favorite one was back in 1991 when the Cortez military men returned to Lytle from Desert Storm. He recalls, “Lytle had a 4th of July parade where we marched out front. I recall how much that meant to my dad and how proud he was….” Dion felt that his dad, not having received the honor he deserved when he returned from his service in Vietnam, had finally received an honorable homecoming.