NC State Basketball Hosts Military Appreciation Day Vs. Clemson
Jan. 18, 2013
RALEIGH, N.C. - Omar Hernandez, a twice-injured, twice-decorated U.S. Army infantry platoon sergeant, would rather repel from the roof onto the court of PNC Arena Sunday evening for No. 14 NC State's basketball game against Clemson.
If he could, the air assault-qualified paratrooper would jump from a plane, climb through the roof, and then find his way into the arena. Based on his five combat deployments since 2003, Hernandez could easily accomplish any of those tasks and be in his seat long before the 6 p.m. tipoff.
Right now, however, he can't.
The 32-year-old native of Mexico, who became a naturalized citizen after his second tour in Iraq, is recovering from multiple injuries he suffered during the second heroic act of his military duty, including breaking both legs and feet when he fell 50 feet down an abandoned well while dragging a buddy who had been shot in the head to safety.
"We were pinned down pretty good," Hernandez said. "If I hadn't dragged him, even though we fell down the well, he probably wouldn't have made it."
That happened on July 3, 2012, in Ghazni, Afghanistan, to the Fort Bragg-based member of the 82nd Airborne Division. His friend is recovering from significant head injuries and both he and Hernandez are receiving help from the Wounded Warrior Project.
Hernandez, with his left leg and right foot both being held together by metal plates and screws, is now in the middle of a year-long rehabilitation, which the jumpmaster hopes will enable him to return to military service, even if he is no longer able to serve as a paratrooper.
Hernandez, who grew up in Houston after his family came to the U.S. when he was six months old, is one of 10 recovering veterans from the WWP who will be recognized during basketball's Military Appreciation Day activities. The others include Seth Evans, Anthony Jackman, Zachary Carpino, Michael Barefoot, Thomas Musso, Val Ayers, Michael Knapp, Kenneth Young and Rob Williams.
"I think being there and being recognized with the other Wounded Warriors will be pretty cool," Hernandez said. "We all love sports, and to get any type of support and recognition on that kind of stage from the community is outstanding.
"It will be something special for us all."
They are all among the 48,000 service members who have been physically wounded during the current military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The WWP is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to honor and empower veterans of these conflicts as they recover and rehabilitate.
For Staff Sgt. Hernandez, this is his second time recovering from significant injuries. He received the Silver Star - the military's third-highest honor - for extraordinary bravery and the Army Commendation Medal with Valor for his actions during a firefight on the streets of Baghdad, Iraq, on June 6, 2007.
After being shot in the leg, Hernandez saved the lives of two Iraqi National Police recruits, dragging them to safety after being ambushed. He suffered a gunshot wound to the thigh that caused severe nerve damage and a 30 percent loss of muscle.
Following seven months of rehabilitation, he recovered enough to do two more tours in Afghanistan. Now, through the Wounded Warriors, Hernandez is hoping for another successful recovery from his most recent injuries so he can get back to Parachute Infantry Regiment, Alpha Company 2505.
"I'll be recovered, maybe not fully, in about a year," Hernandez said. "I'd like to stay in the military. My goal is to get back to the infantry."