Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Army Spc. Roberto A. Hernandez

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Roberto A. Hernandez

21, of Far Rockaway, N.Y.; assigned to the 549th MP Co, 385th MP Bn, 16th MP Bde (Abn), Fort Stewart, Ga.; died June 2, 2009 in Paktya, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when his mounted patrol was attacked with an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire.

Daily News -- Spc. Roberto A. Hernandez, 21, of Far Rockaway, N.Y, was a toddler who loved wearing camouflage.

When he got just a little bit older, Jeffrey Alan Hall frequently coerced his parents into playing Army with him.

"He was the sergeant, and I was the cook," said Hall's mom, Annette.

"And I was the private," added his father, Charles.

Roberto Hernandez, in his too short life, put countless smiles on the faces of his family, friends and Army buddies.

They all gathered Friday, many in tears, to remember the soldier who spread so much joy before his death last week in an Afghanistan explosion.

The 21-year-old's flag-draped silver casket, flanked by red, white, blue and yellow bouquets, stood inside the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn for an emotional sendoff.

"Rob was a special person that can never be replaced," said Samuel Hill, who grew up with Hernandez in Far Rockaway. "He was the funny and goofy person of the group. ... He always made sure everybody had a good time."

Many of the 150 mourners wept as a video montage displayed photos from Hernandez's childhood, high school football career, prom and basic training.

In each, the young man honored as a hero was inevitably grinning.

Brigadier Gen. Rodney Johnson, after presenting Hernandez's mother with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, recalled the soldier's ability to "keep his unit laughing" despite imminent danger.

"I'm here to recognize the ultimate sacrifice Roberto made," Johnson said. "This young man is a hero."

Hernandez was the third generation of his family to serve in the military. The devout Christian's casket was carried from the center to a waiting hearse by a half-dozen fellow soldiers.

When the funeral ended, his mother Paulina Richards-Campbell - an Air Force veteran - said she hoped everyone would once again smile at the thought of her lost son.

"I don't want no one to remember him in a sad way," she said. "I know where he's at now, and I'm at peace with that."

Daily News -- The family of Roberto Hernandez, a third-generation military man, braced for the worst as an Army chaplain approached the young soldier's Queens home.

"When the chaplain comes, they don't tell you he got shot in the leg," said his uncle, 15-year Army veteran Alejandro Tomlinson. "I knew. ... They did not have to say the words."

The message delivered was brief but brutal: Army Spc. Hernandez, 21, was killed by a bomb Tuesday in Afghanistan.

He was riding in a Humvee only weeks before a scheduled July return to Queens.

"He wanted to come home," said his inconsolable mother, Paulina Richards, drying her tears Thursday. "He was my only child."

Hernandez, who enlisted in September 2007, volunteered for war-torn Afghanistan immediately after basic training.

His mother begged him to pick a different assignment, but Hernandez - who served with the military police - wanted to join Operation Enduring Freedom.

"I wanted him to join the military, but I did not want him to go over there," said Richards, a former Air Force mechanic. "I told him, 'Why did you do that? You know you don't have to go over there.'"

A half-dozen colleagues carried his remains Thursday in a flag-draped coffin after Hernandez was flown into Dover Air Force Base.

At the family home in Far Rockaway, relatives hugged amid pictures of the young soldier in his uniform. The August Martin High School graduate had followed his grandfather, mother, two uncles and an aunt into the service.

The family came to the U.S. after Hernandez's grandfather, Alfonso Tomlinson, joined the Army in 1969. Over time, using his military paycheck, he brought other family members over from their native Panama.

"The military brought us to this country," said Virginia Tomlinson, his aunt and an Army veteran. "He [Roberto] paid our debt."

Hernandez, a devoted Christian and member of the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, often wrote and called with details of his life overseas.

"He would tell me, 'It's going to be all right,'" his mom said. Hernandez hoped to use his Army career as a springboard to become a private investigator, family members said.

Uncle Rick Tomlinson, 41, an Army veteran, stood in the home admiring a picture of the handsome young soldier.

"He left many broken hearts," the uncle said.

Army Spc. Roberto A. Hernandez was killed in action on 6/2/09.

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