Army Reservist selected as Wheaties Everyday Champion
Photo appears on boxes of new product
By Maj. Jon Dahms
Public Affairs and Liaison Directorate
Office Chief, Army Reserve
WASHINGTON -- An Army Reservist was recently selected as a Wheaties Everyday Champion and his photo currently appears on boxes of the new Wheaties Energy Crunch cereal.
Sgt. First Class James "Chico" Hernandez, a combat basic training instructor with A Company, 1st Battalion, 391st Regiment, 98th Division (Institutional Training), was one of six people selected to appear on the box from more than 10,000 nominees who had outstanding athletic and community service.
Sports stars like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Mary Lou Retton have appeared on the boxes of the Breakfast of Champions and "Chico" is the first Army Reservist ever to appear on the box.
"I was completely surprised by my selection," Hernandez said. "Writing essays in high school and in college has always been a challenge for me, but I felt good about writing this one. For me it turned out to be an A-plus effort."
Hernandez was selected based on a 300-word essay he wrote and on his performance in an interview process. General Mills flew "Chico" to Minneapolis, Minn. for the interview that included semi-finalists from all 50 states. He was announced at first as Maine’s Everyday Champion and was later selected as a National Finalist Everyday Champion.
Chico, a married father of two, excels in the grueling sport of Sombo wrestling, a self-defense-oriented style of wrestling that incorporates techniques from Judo, freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. It originated in the Soviet Union (Russia) officially in 1939 as a form of hand-to-hand combat for soldiers.
Hernandez is a 25-time National American Athletic Union All-American in the three disciplines of wrestling. He won the U.S. Open at 163 pounds at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. He was recently awarded the rank of 3rd degree Black Belt in Military Combat Sombo.
At the age of 26 in January 1982, after being a standout wrestler in high school and in college, and after coaching for a year at the University of Maine, Hernandez joined the Army.
Within a year of being assigned to his first unit, he attended the inaugural Master Fitness Trainer Course at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind.
“I think I might be the only active Master Fitness Trainer from that inaugural class that is still practicing," said Hernandez. "I still proudly wear my master fitness trainer 'Fit to Fight' patch," Hernandez said. "I believe the school changed the patch to 'Fit to Win' not long after we graduated."
Hernandez is a two-time member of the Team USA World Cup runner-up team, and a silver medalist at both World Cup and the Pan American Championships. He also competed with the All Army Wrestling Team in 1983. He won three Fort Riley 1st Infantry Division and post championships from 1982-1984 and participated in the 1984 Olympic trials.
In his civilian job, Hernandez is a licensed social worker and correctional case worker with the Maine State Prison. His job involves doing psycho-social assessments of high risk inmates and planning anything from their release to escort between facilities.
When he is not working as a social worker at the prison, he volunteers his time conducting crime prevention programs at local schools.
"I try to help kids make good choices in life," Hernandez said. "The crime prevention programs I conduct at local junior high and high schools, coaching local youth sports teams and promoting scholarship programs at my running clubs are all part of that effort."
Hernandez became a member of the Army Reserve in 1985 and has served with several units in the 76th Division (Training Support) in Rhode Island and the 98th Division (Institutional Training) in Maine.
Hernandez still competes against men 20 years his junior in wrestling and is an avid runner. "I use the Army PT test to gauge my level of fitness for wrestling competitions and road racing," Hernandez, who scores on the extended scale on the Army Physical Fitness Test, said. “I have earned 22 Army Physical Fitness Badges in my Army career and if I ever have to go out into combat, I want every edge can get to win and look out for the welfare of the troops I lead”.
A strong adherent to the Army Leadership tenet "Lead by Example," Hernandez said, "Here I am an old man and my PT score overwhelms some of these young guys. Age is not an excuse to be out of shape."
Taking responsibility for ones actions is important to becoming a well-adjusted adult, and in his civilian job, Hernandez all-to-often sees people who fail to realize this. “The Army's seven values are a great baseline to carry throughout one's life,” Hernandez said. "I try to bring across these values in my youth programs, to help kids make good choices like staying in school and avoiding drugs."
Chico said that he recently received one of the greatest honors that has ever been bestowed on him, one he'll never forget.
“I received a letter of congratulations from the Army Reserve's Command Sgt. Maj. Alex Lackey," Hernandez said. "He told me that I am the Everyday Champion and I represent over 205,000 Reservists all over the world. I never received that kind of letter or acknowledgement from anybody in my entire military career! I was deeply honored.
"The Army Reserve opened a lot of doors for me, enabled me to learn some key leadership skills, helped me mature as a person," Hernandez said. "It has been a privilege and an honor to serve my country. I hope to share some of what I've learned from the Army in my volunteer exploits within my community and the troops I lead now and in the future.