Iraq soldier comes home for Christmas

first_imgWHITTIER – Last Christmas, Army Sgt. Dominique Hernandez waited in her barracks in Fort Polk, La., to ship out for her second tour of duty in Iraq. This week, the Army gunner came home to a street strung with yellow ribbons and banners, gifts under a Christmas tree and the welcoming arms of her Whittier family. “My family was on my mind every time I left my base, not knowing if I was going to come back,” said a jet-lagged Hernandez, who on Friday was still on Iraq time. “It’s good to be with them – sleeping in my bed, smelling a cake baking and eating real food.” On her first tour in Iraq, from 2003 to 2004, Hernandez fired an M249 machine gun and was assigned to an Army tank unit. Her second tour was as a 50-caliber gunner with the 603rd Transportation Unit. Her job was to ride atop a Humvee, using the massive weapon to protect convoys driving some of Iraq’s most dangerous roads. “There were bombings all the time, and the insurgents didn’t care who they harmed – from us to Iraqi civilians,” Hernandez said. “I’d hype myself up to do what I had to do by listening to Metallica and looking at a picture of my family.” She lost two of her friends on this last tour. “I was the protector and they were my friends, so it’s hard to talk about it,” she said. Hernandez joined the Army when she was 19, after earning a reputation as a standout basketball player at St. Paul High School and a brief stint at Cerritos College. She joined mostly because she wanted to follow the footsteps of her older brother, a Marine who fought in the first Gulf War. But she also joined out of love of country, she said. “I feel like I’m doing something useful when I’m working for freedom, for Uncle Sam,” she said. During her first tour in Iraq, Hernandez re-enlisted, extending her contract through 2008. When she returns to Fort Polk in January, she may again be deployed to Iraq. She would welcome it, Hernandez said. “I hope to go again, because I am a combat soldier, not a garrison soldier,” she said. Her mother, Sylvia Castillo, is already preparing herself for another long separation. “It hurts, because I know she had a lot of fears the last time she was there. She would write and tell me terrible things,” said Castillo. “But I’m also proud that she is fighting for the freedom of a country that is so oppressed.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3028 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img

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