Memorial held for ST Airman killed in off-duty accident

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Conroy
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

Staff Sgt. Jorge Hernandez was high spirited, compassionate, gracious, strong willed and fearless.

Teammates and friends pointed to the 26 year old La Quinta, California, native as the one who lifted everyone’s spirits with his goofy, cockeyed smile and enthusiasm for life.

Hundreds packed the Commando Hangar, here, to commemorate the life of the gregarious Special Tactics combat controller killed in an off-duty accident in Nashville, Tennessee, on Jan. 1, 2019. The accident is currently under investigation.

 “Jorge is going to be missed … he had a huge heart … whether you knew him for five minutes or five years, he’d be willing to give you the shirt off his back,” said a teammate of Hernandez at the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron. “He had a smile on his face no matter the circumstance … he was the guy that could find humor in the worst situations.”

Hernandez enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on Feb. 29, 2012, and immediately entered the two year combat control training program following basic military training. Upon completion of the pipeline, he was assigned to the 23rd STS here. As a combat controller, he was specially trained and equipped for immediate deployment into combat operations to conduct global access, precision strike and personnel recovery operations.

“As a controller, Jorge was hard working and excited to be a [joint terminal attack controller] and team member,” said Hernandez’s troop commander. “He loved everyone at the unit, from support and human performance staff to team guys … you can’t walk into any office in the squadron without seeing a framed photo of Jorge and whoever worked in that office.”

In addition to an unparalleled work ethic, Hernandez’s troop commander emphasized his bend-over-backwards, pay-it-forward disposition.

“He would go out of his way for anyone,” continued his troop commander. “I know his loss is going to leave a hole in our team room and the squadron that won’t ever be replaced.”

Hernandez was more than a special operations forces Airman -- he was an avid volunteer in the community. Specifically, he invested in Fort Walton Beach High School students; teaching them his other love: wrestling.

Accomplished in Greco-Roman and freestyler wrestling, Hernandez was a silver medalist in the junior Olympics and recently was an alternate for the Air Force Olympics.

Teammates who were in the pipeline with Hernandez recall a team-building exercise at Air Traffic Control School, where instructors asked students to form a circle and sought a volunteer to step into the middle. The goal of the exercise was see how long the student in the middle could last and Hernandez stepped up to the challenge.

“Not a single person was able to remove Jorge,” said a teammate from the pipeline. “He was throwing guys twice his size … and making it look easy.”

Physical feats aside, students from Fort Walton Beach High School most notably remember his compassion and attitude.

“We have all been brought together to be a family by a young man who showed us a better understanding of what passion, love, and caring for everyone around you is really about and important in life,” said Tobi Marez, head wrestling coach at FWBHS.

Several stories came to light of Hernandez allowing students to borrow his car for the prom, giving them rides to practice and buying them any equipment they may have needed to succeed. Maybe most importantly, Hernandez was a role model and a friend.

Scott Pearson, a parent of one of the students Hernandez taught, wrote an open letter about his relationship with him through his son, Joey.

“Jorge was instrumental so instrumental in Joey’s high school success … when school was out, the team would always find their way on base to train with him and he would have the team over for pizza and movies,” said Pearson. “They needed him in their life, as much as he need them.

“What you saw was what you got … a big hearted young man that loved wrestling and loved coaching our kids who were his kids on the mat,” continued Pearson.

Dozens of FWBHS students, donning their school colors, were in attendance to say goodbye to their mentor, their coach and their confidant.

“We have these stories because he cared for each and every one of us, including the coaches,” said Marez. “Family is family…this one is tough for me personally, because he was everyone’s son or big brother in our wrestling family. For my family, he was both – he was a son, and a big brother.”

His dedication to the local community and his volunteer service earned him the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.

Whether in the team room or at the high school, the lack of Hernandez’s presence since his death has been overwhelming, according to friends, family and team mates.

“It’s going to be weird having Jorge gone,” said one team mate from the 23rd STS. “He was everywhere and it’s so strange to look into the team room and not see him being his goofy self … he had such a big impact and he touched so many lives – he will be missed.”