Everyone has a story: WTU Soldier overcomes life challenges
October 3, 2012
FORT EUSTIS, Va. -- Editor's note: This story is part of the 2012 Joint Base Langley-Eustis fall series, highlighting individuals with interesting stories.
From the moment U.S. Army Sgt. Hilton Hunter received his orders to his first duty station, he began to prepare himself for a journey that would take him from the football field to Afghanistan and beyond.
It was the fall of 1994 during his junior year at Norfolk State University when he ran across the football field at William "Dick" Price Stadium for what would be his last time playing defense. Hunter, a native of Gloucester, Va., was a student athlete who played strong safety for the Norfolk State University Spartans football team. Although football was his passion, he was always determined to finish college and become a graphic arts designer. Later in the year, unexpected circumstances forced him to leave college for the workforce in order to support his family.
"After leaving school, I worked for seven years. I took on three different jobs trying to make ends meet," said Hunter, who is currently assigned to Alpha Company of the Warrior Transition Unit. "I just got tired of working these random jobs; they weren't paying the kind of money that I needed to take care of my family. The financial struggles were so bad it started to wear on me physically and emotionally."
Hunter said he wasn't happy with his life, and seeing his family struggle added to his frustrations. Later during the spring of 2003, after meeting with several military recruiters, he made up in his mind that he was going to join the U.S. Army.
The average enlistee in the military, who usually has just a high-school diploma, makes about $43,000 a year to start, according to the Department of Defense. That includes a housing allowance, a subsistence allowance and federal tax advantages. Hunter was determined to provide a better life for his family and the military was his best option.
"I was so adamant about signing up I told the Army recruiter he didn't need to keep bugging me because my mind was made up. I was ready to leave that day," he said.
All throughout basic training and the Army Advanced Individual Training, Hunter was faced with being a 34 year-old Soldier who seemed too old to have success in the military.
"I was one of the oldest recruits and students during AIT, and at first glance people didn't know what to expect from me."
Hunter said he didn't allow his age to hinder his progress. He was determined to do go above and beyond to be the best Solider possible during training.
"It was awkward at first, but I made it my mission to work just as hard or as harder than some of the 19 year-old Soldiers. When they saw me passing them up, they soon started asking me for tips and advice," he said. "It was a known fact that the older guys couldn't keep up, but not me. All I wanted to do is prove to everyone that I could perform and compete at the highest level."
Hunter met adversity with great accomplishments. After receiving his military occupation specialty as a motor transport operator, he finished at the top 10 percent of his AIT class.
"The turn of events was when I received orders to Fort Drum, NY. I was now 10 hours away from home, and I started to wonder if this was the change I was looking for. But I tried to remain focused because in my mind I knew it couldn't get any worse than this."
According to Hunter being assigned at Fort Drum also helped him realize he had an advantage over most of the Soldiers in his division. Although he was older than many of the other Soldiers, he was much more mature and disciplined.
"I believe I was at an advantage. A lot of the younger Soldiers were undisciplined and immature," said Hunter. "So I capitalized on every chance I had to show that I could be a leader, but it took a lot humility."
Hunter didn't like taking orders from his peers who were younger and less experienced than himself. So he knew he had to make rank as fast as he could in order to be acknowledge as one of the leaders in the division.
"Everybody wanted to become a noncommissioned officer. I knew I had to make rank fast, so I seized every opportunity I could to learn about my MOS in order to make the next rank," he said. "It took a lot of patience, sacrifice and dedication to stay focused and accomplish my goal.
After receiving several promotions and awards, he finally achieved the success he desperately sought. But without notice, he received deployment orders to Afghanistan, and everything abruptly changed.
It was at height of the war in Afghanistan, when Hunter was driving a gun truck through a near by city when an Afghani civilian tried to cut off his convoy of Army trucks from the 302nd Cargo Division. Several vehicles collided and Hunter was injured. He suffered a crushed vertebra in his neck, a torn meniscus in his knee and a severally sprained ankle.
"This was the worst experience of my life. The accident ignited an angry mob of civilians swarming around the truck," recalled Hunter. "They were yelling and screaming as if it was my fault. That period of my life... I was defiantly being tested."
Shortly thereafter, Hunter received medical attention, and was sent back to the United Stated from Afghanistan in July 2011. Back with his wife and family, he was finally home, assigned to WTU at Fort Eustis.
Hunter said when he looks back at that accident, he's grateful he didn't lose his life. But the accident isn't the only thing he often reflects back on.
"There are so many teaching moments I've had over the course of my career, but I have no regrets," he said. "The military is one of the greatest things that could have ever happened in my life."
For now, Hunter's time as a Soldier continues. However, when his medical evaluation is complete, his sights are set on reentering the workforce as a business owner.
"So I want to continue to encourage those who serve," said Hunter. "They too can overcome life's challenges if they stay committed to their goals."