A soldier served as the special guest for an annual memorial workout at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, to pay tribute to his brother who was killed in Iraq.
Army Sgt. Jesse Hernandez joined soldiers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), for the 3rd annual Sergeant Michael J. Idanan memorial physical training event in November 2022. Idanan, who was killed in action on Nov. 19, 2005, was serving a second combat tour in Iraq when his vehicle struck a roadside land mine. He was Hernandez’s half-brother.
Hernandez, now 31, was just 13 years old when his brother was killed. Seventeen years later, Hernandez is assigned to the same division in which his brother honorably served, according to a press release.
“Going into the Army myself wasn’t a thought, at first. I was just a kid when my brother was killed,” Hernandez said. “When they told me he was dead, I didn’t understand. It finally hit me that I’d never see him again.”
Not long after his brother’s death, his biological father had a massive stroke. A few years later, Hernandez’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and died suddenly. Surrounded by so much loss and a history of childhood trauma, he started falling in with the wrong crowd, he said. While living in and out of his car or with friends, he decided to take the ASVAB.
“The first time I took it, I failed by two points,” he said.
Instead of having to wait six months to retake the entrance exam, the Army gave him a waiver. This time, Hernandez passed. When he found himself running the field with the rest of his graduating Army recruit class in 2013 at Fort Benning, Georgia, Hernandez says he couldn’t help but get emotional.
“I had finally made it and I knew my brother was watching,” he said. “My brother got in his fair share of trouble, too, but he’d do anything for me — even sneaking us in the back of a movie theater just so I could see movies because we never had the money.”
Initially, the Army was a pitstop for Hernandez to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, he said, but being a soldier quickly became his life. He was stationed in Germany when he met his wife who was also a soldier. After the birth of his son, who had been diagnosed with autism, Hernandez says he made the decision to stay in for the long haul.
“There was a time when I was drinking nonstop and still angry about everything I’d gone through early on in the Army. But these days, my family has become my grounding place. I love coming home and hugging my son. There’s nothing in the world like it,” he said.
Hernandez has also made it his mission to do everything his brother did and then some.
“When I look at myself in the mirror there’s a whole bunch of people standing behind my back from way back when,” he said. “The things they said or did for me had an impact and brought me to where I am today.”
Hernandez takes pride in following his brother’s footsteps, which has included earning his wings and being assigned to the last unit Idanan was attached to. The 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) unit has honored Idanan for the last three years with a memorial training event. And on Nov. 17, 2022, Hernandez was their special guest.
“It was really awesome. Honestly, it was really cold and in my head I just kept thinking there’s no way anyone really wanted to be stuck in that,” he explained. “But as we got started, I looked around and gauged the morale and it was obvious they wanted to be there and that meant a lot to me.”
Looking back, Hernandez thinks it’s a miracle he made it.
“My brother actually told me not to join the military,” he laughed. “I’m sure he was just being a big brother and was in the midst of his Iraq deployment when he said it. But joining the Army, it gave me purpose. I had his name tattooed on my chest and I see it every morning when I look in the mirror. It’s a reminder for me to keep going and to keep pushing.”
As for what he’d say to other junior enlisted members questioning their path, it was simple: “There’s plenty of people just like me who came up with nothing and went through some really terrible things. But you can do anything you put your mind to and really grind at,” Hernandez said. “You never know how much time you have left. Today is a gift. Use it well.”Read comments