NEWS | Oct. 7, 2021

Army Reserve daughter of mariachi singer reflects on her Afghanistan, Qatar service

By Staff Sgt. Neil McCabe 1st Theater Sustainment Command

A Mexican-American Army Reserve Soldier deployed here with the 155th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division Sustainment Brigade, reflected on her remarkable experiences in Afghanistan and Qatar for this year’s Hispanic Heritage observance.

“My mom was born on a ranch in a small little ranch in the middle of nowhere, Rancho Los Charcos, Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico,” said Spc. Luz Hernandez, a unit supply specialist, or 92 Yankee, in the South El Monte, California, based 155th CSSB’s logistics section, or S-4.

When she thinks about her Hispanic Heritage, Hernandez draws strength from her family's legacy rather than from the metaculture. "I am sure there are Mexican heroes, but for me, it was just hearing my dad's and my mom's stories—how they came from nothing in Mexico.”

Growing up, her father worked in the fields picking cotton, and her mother would rise early in the morning to milk the cows and complete her farm chores before school.

“Little things like that help me appreciate my job here,” she said.

The specialist said her mother, Maria Guadalupe Lopez-Hernandez, did not meet her father, Angel Hernandez Mendoza, who also grew up on a small ranch in the same province, Rancho Viejo, Zacatecas, Mexico, until they were both traveling performers.

Hernandez said her mother was a singer and her father played in a mariachi band. "She did not sing with my father, but she was a performer, too. When they met, she would sing at the same place. I have pictures of her signing, back in the day, and her publicity headshot."

After her older brother was born, Hernandez’s mother decided to make her family her career. “She decided to stay home and care for us.”

The mother of three girls said her father kept playing mariachi until he passed away in December 2020, right before she mobilized for this deployment.

Hernandez said she focuses on passing on her Mexican culture to her daughters who now attend a charter school where the classes are taught in Spanish until the fifth grade.

“I am always feeding them Mexican food, and I think they appreciate that,” she said.

“I talk to them in Spanish a lot, and I teach them about my dad’s music. I would play it for them and tell them: ‘This is Papa,’” she said. “He played a giant guitar, called el guitarron, and he was the lead singer,” she said. “He sang with such a beautiful voice—I am not just saying that because he’s my father—he had such a wonderful, beautiful, strong voice. He kinda reminded me of Andrea Bocelli, the Italian singer.”

Hernandez said that mariachi was very popular for many years, so much so that her father recorded an album and was often hired for commercials, different shows, and he met with other Mexican artists.

“Even with mariachi dying out, he pursued it until the day he died,” she said. “Right before he passed away he recorded more songs. It was a mixture of love songs, ballads and a little cumbia.”

Mariachi is mostly love songs, she said. "Drinking songs for some, but for my dad, it was love songs."

The unit supply specialist said it was a powerful experience listening to her father's love songs. "I thought it was beautiful when I knew a song was about my mother—or about other past relationships.”

Hernandez said she carries forward her parents’ love of music by singing in the chapel choir, wherever she has deployed on this mobilization, Camp Buehring, Kuwait; Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar; and Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan.

"I have always been a part of my church choir, and that's how I share my gift," she said.

Typically, it begins like it did when she was assigned to Camp As Sayliyah and happened to meet the chaplain at the passenger terminal. "We just met at the pax terminal, and I said: ‘Look, sir, I’m not the best singer, but you got me.’”

When she sings at chapel, she keeps alive her dream of studying performing arts at college and signing professionally.

Hernandez deploys to Afghanistan in the last months of U.S. military operations there.

After high school, Hernandez thought about joining the Army, but that changed when she became a mother at 19.

Because the father of her three daughters was on active-duty with the Fort Drum-based 10th Mountain Division, there was always the chance that he would deploy. Therefore, she decided it would be better to focus on her daughters and to avoid the possibility that both of their parents would be sent overseas at the same time.

Finally, she decided it was time to enlist.

“It was Oct. 4, 2017, at 27,” she said. "It was one of those things; I always wanted to join when I was younger. I always had a passion for service, either public service or to serve my country.

“I didn’t want to wonder what it would have been like to join the Army—and it was very spontaneous—oh, man, I just went into the recruiting office and decided to enlist,” she said.

Hernandez's unit, the 155th CSSB, is a logistics unit, and she deployed with its Headquarters and Headquarters Company, first to Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Then some of the 155th Soldiers were sent to Afghanistan.

“Some of my friends were already in Afghanistan before me, so I arrived there around April.”

The Idaho resident's element was sent to Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport, where she said her team supported military units from more than 40 different countries and worked the equipment retrograde mission.

"We were sustaining, but we were also retrograding, so it was a very different mission for me at HKIA."

In addition to her duties at HKIA, Hernandez said she was part of the element sent to nearby Forward Operating Base Oqab, which was turned over to the Afghanistan security forces.

Hernandez deploys to Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar

In June, Hernandez said she was sent back to Camp Buehring, but then in the middle of July, she and members of the 155th command team and headquarters were sent to Camp As Saliyah, Qatar.

Camp As Saliyah was designated as a long-term theater safe haven, as the situation in Afghanistan continued to deteriorate. The 155th CSSB was tasked as part of the 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade to build up the camp to be able to accept and house evacuees temporarily as they worked with the Department of State to determine their status and follow-on locations.

“It was very strange. I don't know how to describe it," the specialist said. "We just got there in the middle of July, and the mission was completely different. Coming from Afghanistan, and we came back to build this place up.”

The 155th CSSB Soldiers, along with Soldiers from 3rd DSB and 3rd Medical Command (Deployment Support), worked quickly to build CAS into a functioning safe haven in the few weeks before they welcomed and cared for thousands of evacuees from Afghanistan, who were later transferred to the United States.

"It was an honor to be able to help these people, who helped out throughout the entire 20 years; it was an absolutely beautiful feeling," she said. “I am the type of person who just loves to help people out, but this was a very special mission.”

When she saw the Afghan children, she said her heart went to them.

"It was just like my own mom when she came to America and gave birth to me in the U.S., so I was able to have all these wonderful benefits in the United States."

Now, when she looks back on her remarkable tour, the Army Reserve Soldier said she is very proud to have been a part of American history.

“I am the most patriotic Mexican-American you can ever meet,” she said. “I am just beyond what it means to be an American citizen.