FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — When the topic of resiliency comes up, Pvt. Angel Hernandez should probably be able to point to his photo in the dictionary.
Shortly after starting Basic Combat Training in November with Company B, 1st Battalion, 48th Infantry Regiment, Hernandez showed he was a high performer — ultimately ending up the highest performer in his unit. He had the highest rifle marksmanship and Army Combat Fitness Test scores.
“I worked hard and it paid off,” he said.
However, just before it was time to graduate with his battle buddies Feb. 4, Hernandez experienced a severe illness that required hospitalization.
He was transferred from General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital to University Hospital in Columbia, Mo., for treatments and returned to a hospital room here while he awaits transfer to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., for additional treatment.
While Hernandez had to unfortunately miss the pomp and circumstance of a graduation ceremony, his unit leadership decided something needed to be done to recognize his excellence in BCT.
“He completed all of the graduation requirements; he just wasn’t able to walk across the stage with his peers,” said Capt. Lee Johnson, Bravo Company commander. “We just decided to seize on the opportunity while he’s here now to graduate him in person and recognize him for his achievements — give him the recognition that he deserves.”
That recognition March 3 included the presentation by Lt. Col. Christopher Scott, battalion commander, of Hernandez’ BCT certificate of completion and two Army Achievement Medals for his marksmanship and ACFT scores — all in Hernandez’ room at GLWACH.
Scott — who was accompanied by Johnson, Bravo Company 1st Sgt. Darnel Chestnut, and 3rd Chemical Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Jorge Arzabala — spoke on the importance of recognizing excellence after complimenting Hernandez on his tenacity in continuing to fight to overcome his illness.
“This is really special for all of us to be able to come up here and make sure he knows that he has graduated and is a Soldier in the United States Army,” Scott said. “He is resilient; he is exactly what the Soldiers of this nation need to be. He’s exactly what the people of this nation deserve.”
“Take care of yourself,” Scott added, after presenting Hernandez with the battalion commander’s coin.
Johnson elaborated on why it was important to celebrate Hernandez’ achievements.
“In the Army, absolutely it’s good to recognize people for their accomplishments because they serve as an example for others to follow,” he said. “So, if people see that their hard work and their dedication is rewarded — that high performers are rewarded — then their peers will want to go after that as well.”
People should always be the greatest concern, Johnson added, because people complete the mission.
“Our greatest concern is the Soldier,” he said. “We demonstrate that by recognizing their achievements, but then we also have an obligation to them to help them at their lowest points. Because he got as sick as he did, we had to make that a very high priority for us because it was so serious. (This graduation) was just like his peers got; it was just a one-man show.”
Hernandez accepted the praise from his leadership humbly.
“This wasn’t something I was expecting at all,” he said. “It feels great to be able to recover … I joined the Army because I want to serve my country.”
He said having his command team come to his room made him feel appreciated — that it reflects the team atmosphere he experienced in BCT.
“I’ve definitely learned a lot during basic training,” he said. “You develop a really close relationship with your battle buddies because you learn to rely on them and they learn to rely on you as well.”
Hernandez, who grew up in Clarksburg, Md., said his remaining treatments at Walter Reed will be a bit of a homecoming.
“It’s about 30 minutes from my house,” he said.
After making a full recovery, Hernandez said he looks forward to returning to Fort Leonard Wood to attend Advanced Individual Training for his Military Occupational Specialty: construction equipment repair. He also said he really wants to “get back in shape.”
“When I come back, I want to come back stronger,” he said.