August 23 2011 - From Cuba To Texas: A Texaas State Guard Family Gives Back
TEXAS MILITARY FORCES
Texas State Guard
P.O. Box 5218
Austin TX 78763
Colonel, Texas State Guard
Public Affairs Officer
August 16, 2011
For Immediate Release
From Cuba to Texas: A Texas State Guard Family Gives Back
By Staff Sgt. Phil Fountain, 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, Texas Air National Guard
CAMP MABRY, AUSTIN TEXAS (DATE, 2011) – Nearly a half-century ago, as a seven-year-old boy, Dr. Luis Fernandez of Tyler, TX escaped Communist oppression in Cuba with his family and received political asylum in the United States. In the years since, the Fernandez family has “given back,” particularly in the areas of health care and medicine. Now Tyler resident Brig. Gen. Fernandez is the commanding general of the Texas Medical Brigade of the Texas State Guard.
Brig. Gen. Luis Fernandez, M.D., shared his story between patient visits at Palmview High School in Mission, Texas, during Operation Lone Star, an emergency management and humanitarian medical relief event held annually in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
As Fidel Castro seized power in the mid-20th century, General Fernandez said, “My dad was a very prominent surgeon in Cuba, and was offered a position that would be similar to a Surgeon General’s position here in the United States.”
While he opposed the oppressive Batista government, the senior Fernandez was not aligned with the Communists “and refused to take” the public health appointment in the Castro regime. As a result, “he was put on a death list,” said General Fernandez.
With only a week’s worth of clothing and few other items, the family escaped the island nation and settled in Miami’s Little Havana, where they had to start from scratch. While studying for a medical license in the US, the senior Fernandez “would do whatever he could to put food on the table,” the general said.
In the years that followed, Fernandez followed in his father’s footsteps to become a highly trained surgeon, ultimately settling in Tyler, Texas. “I’ve got a nice sign on my desk that says, ‘I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could,’” he said assuredly.
Along with a fellow practitioner, Dr. Scott Norwood, a retired U.S. Air Force officer, Dr. Fernandez helped develop the trauma system for northeast Texas, which includes East Texas Medical Center and Trinity Mother Francis Hospital.
After the 9/11 terrorist attack in the United States, the surgeon sought to serve in the U.S. military, but was denied because of age. He was 45 years old at the time.
Shortly after being turned away for active-duty service, Dr. Fernandez was called on to help “develop this medical brigade for all hazard disaster response” within the Texas State Guard, a volunteer service organization within the Texas Military Forces, under the command of the Adjutant General of Texas.
Subsequent to joining the Texas State Guard, General Fernandez has been heavily involved in disaster relief efforts, including 90 days of state active-duty for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “Our brigade, as a whole, was involved in that,” he said.
Operation Lone Star not only accommodates preparedness training for catastrophic events such as a hurricane and humanitarian relief, it allows the health professionals a unique opportunity to gain valuable insights they bring back to their communities.
In addition to the training benefits and direct aid to valley residents, the general noted that events such as Operation Lone Star are value-added by providing him the opportunity “to look at a public health issue on a very broad scale” and “take some of the experiences I see here and help solve some of the problems we have locally” in East Texas, where he also serves on the public health board.
Committed to giving back, General Fernandez explained that he “came up the hard way” and “saw the transition from nothing to something.” He is now passing on this tradition of service to his children.
“This nation didn’t have to take us in, but yet it did,” said General Fernandez. “It provided us the opportunities to do the things that we can do. To even suggest that we don’t have any responsibility to give back to the country; that’s a question that’s not even asked in our home.”
His eldest son, Luis III, has volunteered with Operation Lone Star for the past 8 years, and said he enjoys the opportunity to provide a “service to people who have nothing.” Currently an undergraduate at Rice University, Luis III has been accepted in the Baylor College of Medicine to become a medical doctor in keeping with his family’s legacy.
“He’s inspired me to want to pursue medicine,” Luis III said of his father.
The general’s second son William has volunteered every year since the eith grade. Family friend Sam Becker also volunteered for Operation Lone Star this year.
ABOUT THE TEXAS STATE GUARD
The Texas State Guard is one of three branches of the Texas Military Forces (TXMF), operating under the command of the Adjutant General of Texas and the Governor as Commander-in-Chief of all state military forces. The TXMF also includes the Texas Army National Guard and the Texas Air National Guard.
Headquartered at Camp Mabry in Austin, Texas, the mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready military forces to assist State and local authorities in times of State emergencies; to conduct homeland security and community service activities under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities; and to augment the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as required.
For more information about the Texas State Guard, go to: http://www.txsg.state.tx.us