A hero away from home: Sgt. Hermelinda Nowak

The holiday season is a time when families all over come together and make memories while celebrating each other's company. It’s unfortunate that all families cannot be together for the holidays, but it is important to keep those in mind who cannot make it home for positive circumstances.

Sgt. Hermelinda Nowak of Shelton is a dedicated nurse of 23 years in the U.S. Army who is currently stationed in Afghanistan. Her husband, Angel, and two daughters are her support system back home.

Nowak is the oldest in her unit and serves in a mother role to some of the women she’s stationed with. Her nickname is “Mama.”

She’s recognized through a camp of 2,500 service members, civilians and contractors from 41 different countries, not counting the United States.

As of late, Nowak has been viewed in Afghanistan as a hero for actions she took during a helicopter crash on Oct. 10 close to where she is stationed.

“When the incident occurred, my instincts kicked in and I just did what I had to,” said Nowak.

David Lakin of the unit’s public affairs staff compared Nowak’s immediate response to people in danger or in need of help to the precision of Tom Brady on the football field.

“I saw her from my office running fearlessly to help those who were injured,” said Lakin.

When asked what inspires her to risk her life for the benefit of the country, Nowak said, “Never forget 9/11.”

“We shouldn’t forget what happened in 9/11. I wouldn’t want the United States to be attacked again; 9/11 motivates me because I would never want terrorists to come to our land and hurt us again,” said Nowak.

Her family is supportive and she said she talks to her husband and daughter every night. She hates to worry them, but they know she is over there for the greater good of the country.

“To know that I have them there for better or for worse means a lot to me,” said Nowak. “Being able to call them and say, ‘Hey, I am not having a great day,’ means a lot. Having someone at home waiting for me makes a big difference, a big difference.”

She hasn’t been home in Shelton since March and isn’t scheduled to return until the beginning of 2016.

In Afghanistan, they celebrate the holidays by eating dinner in small cohorts as an Army family.

“We talk about what we used to do when we were home with our families, without getting too sad. That’s how we get by here. Keeping each other company, having each other's back and talking to each other. That’s how I actually became Mama, because I’m always giving everyone advice.”

Nowak said she is proud to serve the country and she has a lot to be thankful for.

“I am thankful that I can be here. I have a wonderful husband and  wonderful kids. I am thankful that I can do something more — it gives me joy knowing that I am here helping these people,” said Nowak.

Nowak said all of the support from back home is really appreciated but she wants to clarify that the war isn’t over for everyone.

“Afghans have come a long way, but they still need a lot of help. The war isn’t over, not by far. Maybe for us, but not for them. They still have a long way to go.”

She said it’s been a gratifying 23 years in the Army, and although it’s taken away from her family, she feels she has helped so much.

“At the end, it is what you take with you and what you did for other people. That’s coming from my heart,” said Nowak.