Detaching from warm familial surroundings to venture off to far-flung corners of the globe will forever be one of the toughest facets of the deployment process.
Communication restricted to letters, unreliable phone centers and rarely accessible social media oftentimes makes the distance between two worlds seem infinite, a feeling Sgt. Yash Hernandez-Kraskey experienced firsthand during his first tour in Afghanistan.
Months ago, however, as he was entering the home stretch of his second deployment to Afghanistan, the 24-year-old helicopter mechanic from the Fort Campbell, Kentucky-based 101st Combat Aviation Brigade learned he would soon be seeing someone who would significantly close the cosmic space between deployed life and home sentimentality — his mother.
“I had found out a couple months ago that she was coming out here," Yash said in an Army release. “I knew before I deployed that there was a possibility of her deploying — just not when and where to.”
Kim Hernandez arrived at Bagram Airfield for a one-year tour in October after being accepted into the Department of Defense’s Civilian Workforce program.
An Army and Air Force veteran of 24 years — and a former Blackhawk mechanic just like her son — Kim decided to pursue the Afghanistan opportunity upon learning her son would be going back.
After first being told her job would be sending her to Kabul, the stars aligned just two months before her set departure when she learned she would be joining her son at BAF.
“Okay, that’ll be cool because, like, I’m on Bagram,” Yash joked about the fortuitous rendezvous.
At Bagram, Kim serves as the Joint Task Force Parwan, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan sustainment officer, a role in which she tackles everything from supply management to the training of Afghan personnel on various logistics of the Afghan National Detention Facility and Prison.
Despite the demanding pace of their respective professions, Yash finds time, once per week, to take the bus from one side of the base to the other to visit Kim, trips that distract from the ever-present sensation of being thousands of miles away from home.
“I think it is a good way to get away from the feeling of being deployed for a day," said Yash in the release. "I usually try to invite anybody that has the day off with me to go grab lunch and hang out. I feel like it’s a good way to feel at home, kind of.”
One who was able to join the home-like festivities was Yash’s good friend, Spc. Nicholas Rogers, who immediately noticed striking similarities between mother and son.
“I see a lot of her in Sgt. Hernandez,” Rogers said in the release. “Goofy, always has something to say, something to smart off about. ... They’re just close and it’s awesome they get to have this opportunity out here together ... because the hardest part of this deployment is being away from family."
All “goofy” behavior aside, the mother-son pair shares characteristics Kim has increasingly observed while witnessing her son flourish as a soldier.
“Yash, like me, is all or nothing," Kim said. "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. He surprises me. ... He is much more mature than I think sometimes.”
The added fact that they share the same Blackhawk mechanic job training — and were both trained at the same installation — was sheer luck, Yash said.
“I was very young whenever she was in and all I knew is she worked on helicopters," he said, adding that his only goal when he enlisted was to land a job in aviation maintenance.
"I didn’t really have a preference.”
But Kim remembers things a little differently.
“I did influence him, whether he realizes it or not, there was an influence there,” she said. “Why pick a job where you might have to walk everywhere you go, when you can fly?”
While the source of Yash’s inspiration for choosing aviation maintenance may be up for some family-friendly debate, Kim, who plans to retire at the culmination of her 12-month tour, remains firm in acknowledging her son’s skill set and work ethic as a source of pride.
“He’s a better mechanic than me.”
J.D. Simkins is a writer and editor for Military Times, and a USMC veteran.