LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - This week KCBD would like to honor Manuel Hernandez as our "Hometown Hero." Manuel grew up in Kermit, Texas - about three hours from Lubbock. At 17-years-old he enlisted in the Army Reserves. It was his junior year in High School.
After graduating in 2009, Manuel started classes at South Plains College, but in just one semester he was called to duty.
Manuel was sent overseas and was stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.
"The biggest threat we had there were car bombs and roadside bombs," Manuel said. "You're always on edge, wondering who is bad and who isn't, who you can trust or who you couldn't. We were always looking for targets."
While there, Manuel became a convoy leader and went on more than 150 missions navigating the dangerous roads.
"We always heard about trucks being blown up and being shot at, but it was a miracle we never saw anything happen," he said.
However, it wasn't the fire fights or constant fear of the enemy that was the hardest. Manuel was faced with a different kind of fear. He would not know his first born until he returned home.
Just one week before he was deployed, his wife Cresencia Hernandez broke the news to Manuel. She was pregnant, and with Manuel's deployment lasting 10 months, he would be gone the entire pregnancy.
"At that point I knew the deployment wasn't just going over there and doing what I had to do. I was going to be a father, and I was more than likely going to miss the birth," Manuel said.
"When he left it was pretty hard," Cresencia said. "When we found out we were expecting it got harder."
Manuel was able to come home for a visit when Cresencia was six months pregnant, but he was thousands of miles away when she gave birth to his daughter Maylin.
For months Manuel wouldn't be able to meet his daughter, but Cresencia placed a picture of Manuel in Maylin's crib so she could see her daddy.
"My biggest fear was she wouldn't like me when I got home," Manuel said. "I came home early to surprise them. That night I met my daughter for the first time… it was amazing."
"When I saw him hold her for the first time I just cried," Cresencia said. "It was so exciting just to have him back, knowing other soldiers weren't going to have that chance, but he did. It was a blessing."
After four years in the Army Reserves, Manuel still has two years left. He plans on finishing college with a degree in criminal justice, and pursuing a job either at the federal level or here in Lubbock with the police department.
Now at home, he cherishes every moment with his wife and daughter, but nothing can bring back the memories he lost while overseas – memories he sacrificed to fight for our country.