Grayling veteran recognized for his service through Quilts of Valor program
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
Grayling veteran Todd Hernandez keeps his medals and even bronze stars earned on the battlefield tucked away, but a cherished gift given to him for his military service remains a prominent part of his household.
Hernandez was awarded a patriotic quilt from the Quilts of Valor program from a longtime friend of the family, Ruth Ann Bennett from Dimondale.
Hernandez enlisted in the Michigan National Guard in 1983 and was assigned to a military police unit.
A native of Lansing, Hernandez met his wife, Kellie Kitchen, there and the couple married when he was being trained at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs.
He then migrated to become part of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) unit since he had an interest in working with explosives, learning about munitions, how they work, and how to render them safe.
Tragedy also factored into his decision since his friend, David Pruitt, from Rochester, was killed during a training event with Bangalore torpedo, which is used by the military when breaching minefields and wired obstacles.
Hernandez went to his first bomb squad school at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He then went to Naval Base in Indian Head, Maryland. Finally, he completed the last phase of his training at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama.
There are a number of schools before being assigned to an EOD unit since they train personnel for the military service, foreign nationals, and people from other governmental agencies.
Hernandez was assigned to the 745th EOD unit based out of Grayling. The unit was deployed for Operation Desert Storm.
Following the deployment, Hernandez and his family moved to Grayling.
At a rummage sale held at his home in 1992, Kellie met Bennett and they became quick friends. Kellie learned how Bennett had reconnected with some of her family members, and she helped Hernandez find his biological mother.
Hernandez and the 745th EOD unit was then deployed for Operation Iraqi Freedom. They dealt with over 500 incidents involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs). They also were involved in destroying enemy ammunition.
“That’s what we did day in and day out,” he said. “It was not a friendly environment to be doing that in. The unit did really well and we had a lot of brave guys in the unit.”
During the mission, Staff Sgt. Mike Sutter, who was from a suburb of Chicago, was killed on December 26, 2003 while trying to render an IED safe. Staff Sgt. James McKelvey was also injured by an IED that was booby trapped and blew up while he was approaching it.
Hernandez was awarded two bronze stars for both deployments.
Hernandez retired from the Michigan National Guard in 2005 at the rank of First Sgt., but was not done with working with explosives.
He worked for four different companies, which has contracts with the government, to clear unexploded explosive devices from firing and bombing ranges that were being shut down and closed. The work was done in Colorado and Puerto Rico.
In 2008 Hernandez, took a job with Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration at the Detroit Metro Airport. He first served as an explosives expert and taught screeners about x-ray interpretation, teaching them about explosives and various components used in IEDs. He also taught the screeners about screening techniques, pat down techniques, and how to detected everyday items on a person or in bag that could be an explosive.
After a year and half in Detroit, Hernandez was assigned to be a security trainer at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City as well as nine other airports in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.
Bennett awarded the Quilts of Valor gift to Hernandez while he was working in Traverse City.
“The quilt is something I cherish, and I’ll always have it,” he said. “It’s a good reminder to me that there are people that get it and they care, and it made me feel proud to have served.”
Bennett could relate to what it’s like to have a family member in the armed services.
“I was just overwhelmed when he got it,” Kellie said. “She cried when she gave it to him. She had a grandson who was in the war, so she really gets what military families have to go through.”
Todd and Kellie have two grown sons. One was a newborn when he deployed for Operation Desert Storm, and the two boys were approaching their early teen years when Hernandez deployed to Iraq.
“It’s incredibly stressful on the family,” Kellie said. “It’s a constant worry. You don’t know if you’re going to get your dad back or your husband back and that’s the reality of it.”
The quilt lays across the back of a couch in the couple’s home, but does get used to provide an extra level of comfort.
“I’ve pulled it off there to cover up with when it gets chilly,” Hernandez said.