Capt. Edward Hernaez’s oldest brother joined the Coast Guard, and his other older brother went to West Point, so it might have been inevitable he would join the military too. His family didn’t have much military history, but his oldest brother started the trend.
“Really I was just following my brothers and just seeing their transformation into military officers. That was appealing to me,” Hernaez said.
His brothers both left after serving five years, but Hernaez has stuck with it. After a 23-year career in the Coast Guard, Hernaez took over as the commanding officer of United States Coast Guard Base Kodiak on June 19.
When it came time to apply for a transfer, Hernaez said Kodiak was his first choice.
“I listed Base Kodiak as number one because it’s the largest base. I’m very familiar with the work here on Kodiak as far having a waterfront and an air station … I also wanted to put myself in a position where I was the commanding officer of the largest base.” Hernaez said.
Hernaez, who grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, went to the Coast Guard Academy in 1994 and graduated in 1998. He studied civil engineering and played outside linebacker on the football team. He was named an All-American in 1997, one of only four All-Americans in Coast Guard history, and was later inducted into the Coast Guard Athletic Hall of Fame.
“That was such a unique honor on my end. I played football to enjoy it, I wasn’t trying to be the best of anything,” Hernaez said of the induction. “It was great to be honored in that way.”
His first assignment after graduating was on the high endurance cutter USCG Boutwell out of Alameda, California, as a student engineer. After that he worked on the USCG Sherman at the same base.
Hernaez has since worked delivering ships to Coast Guard stations around the country and in civil engineering units in Oakland, California, and Providence, Rhode Island. He was the chief facilities engineer at the Coast Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and before coming to Kodiak, he was the assistant commandant for cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
He got a master’s degree in ocean engineering from Texas A&M and, more recently, a master’s in business administration from Arizona State.
Civil engineering has been the main focus of his career. The Coast Guard manages huge amounts of shore infrastructure on bases, and civil engineers build them and keep them shipshape.
“Buildings, roadways, runways, ramps, towers, sidewalks, you name it. Anything that is one the shore, civil engineers manage the maintenance and upkeep on those facilities,” Hernaez said.
It’s not day-to-day management but rather coming up with plans to upgrade or fix the infrastructure as needed. After graduate school, Hernaez was stationed in Oakland and managed all the waterfront projects along the West Coast. He did things like help design, build and manage the construction of a new wharf in Yaquina Bay, Oregon.
As commander of the base, Hernaez has a whole slew of responsibilities. On Kodiak, the Coast Guard manages 2,700 acres of land, 2 million square feet of buildings, the waterfront, the air station, a fisheries training center, a personnel office that manages 2,300 active-duty members, a water treatment plant, a wastewater treatment plant, a golf course, and on and on.
“It’s like trying to manage a city here, and I feel my main responsibility is that I’m supporting my staff and my crew so they can provide the level of support we expect,” he said.
There’s also plenty of responsibility off the base. Hernaez is part of the Emergency Operations Center for Kodiak, which has helped manage the response to COVID-19 among other things.
One of his focuses in the future is to improve the base’s mental health resources. There’s already a chaplain, family services and financial help, but he wants to expand those capabilities.
“One thing we don’t have is we don’t have a psychiatrist and we don’t have a psychologist attached to the clinic on the base. In my experience, I know the benefits of having a psychiatrist or psychologist, or one or the other, on base available to the crew,” he said.
Hernaez has only been here about a month and a half, but he said he and his family are quickly adjusting to life on The Rock. He had stopped in Kodiak a few times throughout his career, but his wife Jen and their two kids, E.J. and Jessica, had never been to Alaska. Everyone’s taking to it, though. They’re working on the Adjust Your Altitude hiking challenge and have even caught a few fish in Saltery Cove.
“We’re doing our best to embrace the Kodiak lifestyle … It’s been fantastic so far,” Hernaez said.