A young man enlists in the Army, becomes a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter mechanic, says good-bye to family and friends, and heads off to war-torn Afghanistan, again, for a second time. But this time there’s something different — his mother is coming.
“I had found out a couple months ago that she was coming out here. I knew before I deployed that there was a possibility of her deploying just not when and where to,” said Sgt. Yash Hernandez-Kraskey, 24, who arrived in Afghanistan in June for a nine-month tour.
Usually when a young Soldier deploys, thoughts of home, parents, friends and the good life fill the mind during the time away. But in this rare case, one Soldier had the opportunity to visit with his mother on a weekly basis.
Yash, who joined the Army in 2013, is with Alpha Company, 6th Battalion, 101st General Support Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The unit transports troops around the battlefield and provides close air support/aerial reconnaissance. During this deployment, the unit is part of Task Force Shadow at BAF in support of the NATO’s Resolute Support mission.
Like three decades ago, Yash has the same military occupational specialty as his mother — Blackhawk mechanic, and like her, serves as a crew chief, which includes the additional duties of preparing a helicopter for flight and inspecting it before takeoff, conducting a post-flight inspection, and maintaining a log book.
Last year his mom was accepted into the DOD Expeditionary Civilian Workforce program enabling her to deploy here in late October as an Air Force civilian.
Yash’s mom, Kim Hernandez, an Army and Air Force uniformed veteran of 24 years, said she first learned of her son’s latest deployment during the April-May timeframe as she was pondering of deploying to Afghanistan.
Initially, she was told she would work in Kabul, the capital city. But that got changed to BAF about two months before she deployed.
“Okay, that’ll be cool because like I’m on Bagram,” Yash said upon learning his mom was coming here. “I knew I would get a day off every now and then…yeah, we joked about it.”
Kim enlisted in the Army in January 1986. Her job was a Black Hawk helicopter mechanic, something not common for a woman back then. But with a high “GT” — General Technical — score of 115, Kim could pretty much write her own ticket for her Army position. She did require a waiver; to this day Kim isn’t absolutely sure why but thinks it was because she was female.
She spent nearly five years active duty and the rest in the National Guard, serving in such places as Camp Humphreys, Korea, and Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and is a veteran of Desert Storm, and deploying to Germany, Spain, and Kuwait in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
Kim, now 55, originally spent 12 years in the Army and then switched to the Air Force Reserve Command serving another 12 years working her way up to a command post superintendent at Duke Field, Crestview, Florida, serving in a duo civilian/military employment capacity. She eventually changed positions working as a logistics planner superintendent.
In 2010, she was medically separated from the AFRC in 2010 based on neck and shoulder injuries from two helicopter crashes incurred earlier in her career.
Also in 2010, she started work as a logistics squadron manager at Duke Field. She plans to retire after this 12-month deployment.
While deployed, Yash was situated on the “Warrior” side of BAF with his mother located on the “Disney” side named after a Soldier killed here in a heavy-equipment accident in 2002.
In her deployment status, Kim works as the sustainment officer for Joint Task Force Parwan, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan.
“Sustainment is anything and everything to do with supply and logistics,” Kim said.
She also works as a contracting officer’s representative for two contracts at the Afghan National Detention Facility and Prison — Parwan located at BAF. A COR plays a critical role in ensuring that contractors meet the commitment of their contracts.
Her section also trains, advises and assists their Afghan counterparts on how to conduct sustainment regarding living and working areas at the prison.
Hence, it’s not uncommon to see Kim walking around toting an M-9 pistol and M-4 rifle as her job requires she goes to a shooting range monthly to stay proficient weapon-wise based on her visits to the Parwan prison.
The overlap in their deployments allowed Yash to take a bus usually on Tuesdays to visit his mom. They would spend some time in Kim’s office, eat at a dining facility, go to the post exchange, and just hang out.
Asked what his thoughts were on his mom being here, Yash said: “I think it is a good way to get away from the feeling of being deployed for a day. I usually try to invite anybody that has the day off with me to go grab lunch and hangout. I feel like it’s a good way to feel at home kind of.”
Kim has also been to where Yash works, as he introduced her to his Army aviation unit members, something that surprised them all.
“They didn’t believe it,” Yash said upon informing his unit members that his mom was also deployed to Afghanistan at BAF. “They thought that it was cool though and said they understand where I get my personality from” after he introduced her to them.
One of his unit buddies is Spc. Nicholas Rogers, 24, who’s been friends with Yash for about a year.
“I see a lot of her in Sergeant Hernandez,” Rogers said. “Goofy, always has something to say, something to smart off about.”
Rogers said he was really surprised to hear that Yash’s mom was here. “I was like that’s actually really awesome just because the hardest part of this deployment is being away from family.”
Asked if he would want his mom here, Rogers said: “Yeah, at times. Just having that family, being close. I wish she was safe and doing a job she enjoys. I think it would be awesome to have my mom here.”
Roger said he can tell that Yash and his mom are hard workers, willing to do whatever to get the job done, and willing to go out of their way to accomplish the mission.
“They’re just close and it’s awesome the get to have this opportunity out here together,” Rogers said.
“Yash, like me, is all or nothing. He will give you one chance and if you fail him he is done, he says life is too short to waste on people who are not genuine,” Kim explained. “He surprises me as he is much more mature than I think sometimes, and I think his friends just figure his mom would be a little different.”
While there is some difference of opinion, Kim maintains her Army time and specialty influenced her son into seeking and attaining the same Army job as her.
“I did influence him, whether he realizes it or not, there was an influence there,” Kim said, adding she told him “Why pick a job where you might have to walk everywhere you go, when you can fly?”
Yash acknowledges that but maintains the decision was his alone.
“I was very young whenever she was in and all I knew is she worked on helicopters. [I] didn’t really know much about it,” he said. When he decide to join the Army, he recalled thinking “I’ll just do anything [in] aviation maintenance. I didn’t really have a preference.”
After signing his contract, Yash called his mom to let her know that he signed up to become a Black Hawk mechanic.
Yash said his mom replied “You know that’s what I did, right?” to which he said “Oh damn, that’s crazy.”
Kim said she told him prior to joining that a Black Hawk mechanic had some advantages versus an Apache helicopter mechanic because you get extra monthly pay and you get to fly on every mission.
Kim recalled when Yash was about 14, he said he would never join the military based on his mother often being away because of her military obligations. Yash said he felt that way right up until he changed his mind when he was about 18 as reality set in. He wanted to attend college and needed money.
Yash said he joined the Army to get the Post 9/11 GI Bill. He said he would like to further his education in the aviation field or go into the culinary field.
His current enlistment contract runs out in August 2020. At this point he said his unsure of his future plans.
“Honestly, I am torn between staying in the aviation field and going to school to be a pilot or going to culinary school. I plan on one day starting my own food truck,” he said.
“As of right now I am on the fence about my career in the Army. I am going about it as if I plan on staying in the Army but at the same time I would like to pursue my overall goals on the outside of the military. I figure if things don’t work out I can always come back to the Army,” Yash said.
“We used to go to a lot of parties when Yash was growing up and his dad would get invited everywhere because everyone loved his cooking so he gets the cooking from his father,” Kim explained. “I, myself, at one point in my life was going to pursue the culinary field as well as I grew up working in restaurants and doing all the jobs from dishwashing to cocktail waitress, cooking and managing.”
Yash also went to the same installation for his training as a Black Hawk mechanic — Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, — as his mother did in 1987. Back then it was strictly an Army post, known as Fort Eustis, the home of Army transportation.
“He’s a better mechanic than me,” Kim said, explaining that Yash is better at trouble shooting.
Aside from his mom being here, Yash said not much has changed for him in Afghanistan from his last deployment.
“Well, I was here two years ago, so when I came back and ended up in the same exact spot as last time I felt like I never left,” he said. “I felt like not much had changed from the last time I was here except little things. So this deployment I made sure to keep myself as busy as possible to help the time pass.”
And for Kim, she plans to see Yash when she eventually takes an “”R&R” or rest and relaxation period (vacation) during her deployment.
“I’ll still do what I’m doing,” Kim said after Yash leaves, and have a normal deployment.
Information direct from the US Army. Article by Micheal Connor, Army Public Affairs