By STEPHEN MOORE
If you visit the 420 Social Club at 3054 N. First Ave., inside the Many Hands Artist Cooperative, you might be greeted by 31-year-old Pima Community College student and Iraq War veteran, Pedro Hernandez.
He is a gracious host, making you feel at home. He is willing to help in any way he can answer any question. But there is much more to Hernandez than meets the eye.
Hernandez was born and raised in Tucson by his single mom.
He attended Catalina High School while working at Food City. His girlfriend was living with her step-family in what he considered to be an abusive environment. After he noticed bruises on her, he saved his Food City money and sent her to live with her family members in Iowa.
After graduating in 2005, Hernandez moved to Iowa to be near his high school sweetheart. Things did not work out, and Hernandez was heartbroken.
The day after Hernandez’s girlfriend broke up with him, he went to the Army recruiting office and signed up.
“I specifically asked for any job in construction that does not deal with jackhammering,” Hernandez said. The recruiter agreed, but, “they gave me the only job in the Army that deals with jackhammering.”
He considered returning to Tucson instead of joining the Army, but he said he did not want to be a burden to his mother.
Neither Hernandez nor his mom had any money to finance his education. He joined the Army so he could go to college after serving.
“I did my time, if you will,” Hernandez said. “I call it time because it felt like prison, being locked in a base, getting shot at. You could die just like you could die in prison.
Hernandez sustained a head injury while serving in Iraq. He was at his post when two twin-engine, tandem-rotor heavy-lift Chinook helicopters landed on each side of him. The downdraft blew him into a cement barrier. Although he was wearing his helmet, he sustained a brain injury.
After returning from Iraq, Hernandez was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado. He and his unit were training to go to Afghanistan.
“They knew that I loved to run, so they wanted me to run, but they wanted me to get better at running,” he said.
To help him improve, his trainers would challenge him with body armor, a weapon and a rucksack or two.
“After a while, I noticed I could not run, not even on flat ground, and it hurt,” Hernandez said. “No one believed me.”
Hernandez ended up in a mental institution “because of my nightmares, bad thoughts. I wanted to hurt myself. No one believed me at all, that that stuff hurt me.”
He now uses medical marijuana to control the pain in his knees. He is losing cartilage and was told that the knee pain will probably be with him for the rest of his life. He refuses to use any other type of drug, including opiates, to alleviate the pain.
Hernandez plans on becoming an earth science teacher. He is currently taking classes at PCC’s West Campus and is preparing to attend the University of Arizona.