Most Defense Logistics Agency employees know Teodora Mocanu as the agency’s dedicated photographer — but she is also a mother, a scholar and an Army veteran. Mocanu, who works for DLA’s Installation Support office, ran this year’s Army Ten-Miler in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8, to honor her late squad leader.
Mocanu signed up as part of the TAPS team, or Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.
“They help Gold Star families — families of service members who have died while serving,” she explained.
TAPS runners can be introduced to a family and run in honor of one of their loved ones, but Mocanu said she ran to honor her former Army squad leader, Sgt. Anthony Vincent Lopez.
Mocanu served in the Army from 1998 to 2008 and is no stranger to physical training. Due to cumulative knee damage she sustained during active service, she said she’s not even supposed to run, but it hasn’t stopped her from competing in various 5K and 10K races and half-marathons. She said it’s hard but worthwhile.
“It’s a way for me to stay in shape — to feel like I can still do certain things, even though I might be a little older and my body might be a little achier,” she said.
In 2003, while stationed in Germany, Mocanu and her squad had just returned from a deployment. Lopez had always wanted a motorcycle and finally fulfilled his dream by purchasing a new Harley-Davidson. Less than 10 days later, while riding along the streets of Granswang, Germany, he lost control of the bike and died. Lopez was just 35 years old and left behind a wife and 5-year-old daughter.
“I was in the hospital having knee surgery,” Mocanu said. “I came back, and he was gone. I didn’t even get a chance to see him riding his bike — and that’s all he talked about.”
Mocanu reflected on the brief time Lopez was her squad leader.
“I was a brand new non-commissioned officer at the time and he was the older NCO,” she said. “He made sure I did the right thing so I learned how to be a better leader. He was one of the good leaders.”
Lopez was someone who enjoyed life and was very approachable, even during stressful wartime training situations, Mocanu said.
“Whenever he talked to us, he was understanding, nice and kind,” she said. “He was more than a squad leader; he was a friend.”
Mocanu said Lopez and his wife, Lorena, often hosted parties and other gatherings for friends, and even came to visit Mocanu in the hospital while she was waiting to give birth to her daughter, Emily.
“You learn to trust the people you work with; they become your family,” Mocanu said.
Though Lopez’s widow now lives in Canada, Mocanu has kept in touch with her via social media.
“When [my daughter] Sophie was born two years ago, Lorena sent me some clothes from when her daughter was a baby — and her daughter is 19!” she said. Mocanu said Lopez’s daughter attends college in Florida, but the family is never far from her thoughts.
Mocanu had planned a 2006 TAPS run in honor of Lopez but was injured during training and had to drop out of the race.
“I never really got a chance to do it — so it became one of my ‘wish list’ races,” Mocanu said. “This year, I got a chance to sign up when TAPS was looking for volunteers to run on their team. I thought, ‘Yay – what a great opportunity!’ So it worked out.”
When Mocanu asked Lorena Lopez about running in Lopez’s honor, both cried, she said. Mocanu also became emotional when she went to pick up her race number, which had Lopez’s name on it.
“Even when someone’s passed away … when you do something like that, it shows that you haven’t forgotten them,” she said. “I’m so glad I got a chance to do it.”