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Far Rock soldier mourned as hero

Far Rockaway soldier Roberto Hernandez, killed two weeks ago in Afghanistan, was a man who his relatives and friends say lived by the values of courage, honor and service.

On Friday, dozens of the 21-year-old Army specialist’s loved ones gathered at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn to remember his life in and out of uniform. A color guard procession, Army accolades and a Panamanian praise dance were some of the ways the family honored Hernandez, who was a month a way from returning home from duty.

“I am very proud of him,” said Paulina Richards, the soldier’s mother, following the service.

Hernandez was born in California but raised in Far Rockaway with his mother, stepfather Edwin Richards and aunt and uncles. He was popular and friendly in the neighborhood, according to lifelong friends like Samuel Hill.

Hill was teary-eyed when he recollected how he used to play sports video games with Hernandez.

“He became so good at ‘Madden’ that I stopped playing him because I couldn’t beat him,” he said.

After graduating from August Martin High School in Jamaica in 2006, Hernandez attended Tuskegee University in Alabama. After studying for a year at the Southern school, he enlisted in the Army, becoming the third-generation member of his family to serve in the armed forces.

His mother was an Air Force mechanic and his uncles, Ricardo and Alejandro Tomlinson, and grandfather, who immigrated from Panama to the United States, served in the Army.

In April 2007, he was shipped to Afghanistan from Fort Stewart, Ga. Ricardo Tomlinson said his nephew’s sacrifice, which earned him a posthumous Bronze Star and Purple Heart, has made the family proud.

“My nephew willingly stepped up and said, ‘I’ll go,’” he said.

Hernandez was killed June 2 when his troop was attacked with an IED and small arms fire. Sean Noel, one of the soldier’s friends, said one of the last things Hernandez told him was that conditions were becoming rough in Afghanistan.

“I said, ‘Don’t talk like that. We’re going to be kicking it next month,’” he recalled.

Richards did not give a eulogy during the two-hour funeral and silently prayed over her son’s open casket at the end of the service.

Just before she and the other mourners headed out to Calverton National Cemetery, his mother said the service and the support she has received over the last two weeks has helped her deal with her son’s death.

“I’m more content, because now I know he’s in a better place,” Richards said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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