Parachute drop zone at Army base in Germany named in honor of 173rd Airborne soldier
Stars and Stripes April 21, 2023
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — The memory of an American paratrooper who died in Afghanistan in 2005 lives on with a new designation at the Army’s vast rural Bavarian training ground.
A landing zone was dedicated Thursday to Cpl. Emmanuel Hernandez, who served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade as a member of the Grafenwoehr-based 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment.
From now on, soldiers who jump at Grafenwoehr will fill out their logbooks with “Hernandez DZ,'' Lt. Col. Robert Kinney, the regiment commander, said at the naming ceremony.
The 22-year-old Hernandez and Sgt. Michael J. Kelley of the Army National Guard were killed June 8, 2005, in a rocket attack by insurgents at a forward operating base near Shkin, Afghanistan.
“Cpl. Hernandez was not working the drop zone that day,” Kinney said at Thursday’s ceremony. “He was out there to greet his friends.”
Friends and former soldiers who served with Hernandez were on hand for the dedication as well.
“Emmanuel was larger than life,” said Luke Spencer, a platoon member deployed with Hernandez in Afghanistan. “His smile would light up a room.”
Spencer said that no one outworked Hernandez and that he was the embodiment of a 319th paratrooper. Also in attendance were six of Hernandez’s relatives, including his mother, wife and sisters, who flew in from Puerto Rico.
Three of them spoke at the dedication ceremony.
Hernandez and his wife, Jessica, were high school sweethearts.
“We were a very happy couple,” she told Stars and Stripes through an interpreter at a memorial service in 2005 in Vicenza, Italy, where the 173rd Airborne has its headquarters.
The ceremony was accompanied by a live parachute demonstration as well as a six-round cannon salute, one for each of the family members in attendance.
A memorial plaque was unveiled at the site with an engraved picture of Hernandez that details his life and service.