Pr. George's policeman dies in Iraq

A Prince George's County police officer who was serving as an Army reservist in Iraq has been killed by an improvised explosive device, officials announced yesterday.

Staff Sgt. Robert Hernandez, 47, a former member of the Baltimore and Washington police departments, was traveling in a convoy about 9 p.m. Tuesday when the device exploded, according to Prince George's County police.

Sergeant Hernandez, a father of three from Silver Spring and a 24-year military veteran, had been in Iraq since last summer.

The Department of Defense had not announced his death and last night would not confirm the information from county officials.

Police and county officials asked yesterday for prayer and a show of support for their officer's family -- a fiancee, an adult son and two younger children in Silver Spring, and his parents and extended family in Puerto Rico. The family could not be reached for comment yesterday.

"I'm heartbroken by this loss," said County Executive Jack B. Johnson. "It is a tragic loss for our county and the nation."

Sergeant Hernandez, who was a corporal on the Prince George's County force, had worked there for 10 years, most recently in Bowie as a field training officer, accompanying new officers on their assignments.

His county police supervisor, Maj. Michael Blow, praised him as "a hard-working officer who easily earned the respect of his fellow officers." He added that Sergeant Hernandez had volunteered for his assignment, helping new officers adjust to the department. He also said the officer's unit won a citation in 2000 for organizing care packages for flood victims in Mozambique.

"This department is deeply saddened by the loss of our brother Corporal Robert Hernandez," said Prince George's Police Chief Melvin C. High. "Our hearts are with Officer Hernandez' fiance and other family members."

In an article last month in the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper in Virginia, Staff Sergeant Hernandez talked about how much he enjoyed being part of a company of reservists known as the "Rough Riders," protecting convoys.

"We get to see the country, the bad parts and the good parts," Sergeant Hernandez told the newspaper. "The heartbreaking part is when you see the little kids on the side of the roads, they look very poor."

He told the newspaper that the Baghdad-based Rough Riders had previously distributed toys to Iraqi children but had to stop because of the threat of insurgents, who might punish the children for interacting with Americans. He said instead they started giving children food.

"Some seem friendly," Sergeant Hernandez said of the Iraqis. "Others, you can tell they don't like us."

Cpl. Clinton Copeland, a Prince George's police spokesman, described Sergeant Hernandez last night as "very, very nice" and a "very jovial guy."

"We have a number of guys that have been deployed," Corporal Copeland said. "It's the first [death] for us, and it's devastating. It really is."