By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 16, 2007
Sgt. Edelman L. Hernandez had fulfilled his four-year commitment to the U.S. Army last month, and he did it the hard way, pulling a one-year combat tour in Iraq and another in Afghanistan. But because his unit was still deployed in a combat zone, he was prevented from leaving the service.
Instead, he died in uniform, drowning in a river in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley on April 11. Hernandez was 23.
His mother, Norma, said her eldest of four sons had wanted to be in the military since growing up in Hyattsville. Yesterday, the Lanham woman was mourning two of her sons. A younger son, Edwin, died three years ago to the day, in a car crash.
Edelman Hernandez was a member of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, N.Y. The Army said only that he died while on combat patrol and that the incident is under investigation.
The 10th Mountain Division is taking part in Operation Mountain Lion, an effort to push Taliban forces out of the valleys in Kunar province, northwest of Kabul.
Norma Hernandez said Army officials told her when they came to her house to inform her of her son's death that his squad was crossing a deep river and that he never made it across.
But she wants more answers.
"Why only him, if it was so deep?" she asked.
Edelman Hernandez was kept in the Army through the Pentagon's "stop-loss'' program, which prevents active-duty Army and Reserve soldiers from leaving the military, either because their skills are needed or because their units are going overseas or are there already.
Hernandez played soccer at Hyattsville High School, where he had plenty of friends.
"He's always laughing, never really had a hard time or [was] upset about anything," said his close friend Emily, who wanted to be identified only by first name. "He was the kindest person I knew and would give whatever he had to you."
Emily said she was surprised when her friend decided to join the military.
"It was hard because why would you put yourself at risk? It was a decision that he made," she said. "I respected it because they are fighting for you."