Juan Carlos Hernandez was born in Orizaba, Mexico. At the age of 9, his mother brought Juan and his two brothers to the United States so they could build better lives than she’d had.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have papers, so we crossed the border illegally,” Juan says. “I was terrified. I didn’t speak a single word of English, and I knew nothing about this place I would come to love and call home.”
After graduating from high school in Schulenburg, Texas, Juan joined the Army. “I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself and do something that I would forever be proud of. But for me, the main reason was to give back to the country that had done so much for my family and me,” he says.
Juan served in Afghanistan, where he manned a machine gun in the door of a helicopter. On a mission in 2009, a rocket-propelled grenade hit his team’s helicopter. Juan lost his right leg in the attack.
He recovered at Brooke Army Medical Center, in Texas, where he was fitted with a prosthetic leg. He started walking again in just three months.
Juan was deeply moved by the care he received throughout his recovery—so moved, in fact, that he is now pursuing his undergraduate degree in kinesiology, the study of the mechanics of body movements. After being on the receiving end of life-changing physical therapy, Juan wants to pay it forward. “I would love to work with children who struggle with disabilities and make their lives better.”
Juan is grateful for the opportunity to have served this country—his country. “That’s my payback. That’s my way of saying thank-you,” he says.
He became an American citizen in May 2009.* Juan’s story is one example of the countless ways that immigrants make America great. And I am honored and humbled to call Juan Carlos Hernandez my fellow citizen.
*Juan got a green card that gave him legal status when he was 15. Undocumented immigrants with no legal status cannot serve in the military.