FORT SILL, Okla. (July 30, 2023) — In the Army, stories of resilience and dedication are commonplace. Yet, every so often, a narrative like that of 2nd Lt. Mary Hiller surfaces, commanding attention. Hiller's transformation from an Army spouse to a General Schedule (GS) employee, and ultimately to a Second Lieutenant, is a powerful testament to her unwavering commitment and personal growth.
Hiller, a native of Lawton and an alumna of MacArthur High School and Cameron University, understood the benefits of becoming a government employee. As the wife of an active-duty soldier, she was particularly aware of the transient nature of military life and how a stable government job could provide a sense of continuity and security.
"We seldom stayed in one place for more than three years," she reminisced. Her career in government service took off at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, and once she was in the system, it became progressively easier to secure subsequent jobs with each move.
However, her tenure at Fort Stewart, Georgia marked a pivotal moment. Despite securing a fulfilling job, she had to relinquish it when her husband received transfer orders. Upon returning to a previous position at Fort Campbell, she found herself yearning for more. "I felt a greater purpose, and I was bored," she candidly admits.
It was then that Hiller's husband suggested she consider becoming an officer in the Army. Despite previous attempts to submit an officer packet being unsuccessful due to recruiter oversights, this time, with the assistance of a dedicated recruiter, she managed to successfully submit her packet. "What's the worst that could happen? They reject me? But I still had my job," she reasoned. In December 2022, she received the call that she had been accepted.
The journey to becoming an officer was not without its challenges. Separation from family and connecting with younger adult peers were among the hurdles she faced. Yet at 37, Hiller found her age to be an asset. "Most people don't realize my age, which I believe works to my advantage," she says. As a mother of a teenager, she found common ground with the younger adults she was now training alongside.
Initially, Hiller was drawn to the Adjutant General Corps. However, as she navigated the rigors of OCS, she found herself yearning for a role that posed greater challenges. An opportunity presented itself in the form of a position in military intelligence, detailed in field artillery. Hiller embraced this chance with open arms. "I thought it would be a nice nod to my husband, who's a former FA," she explains.
Hiller's choice reflects a strategic approach to her career progression in the Army. "There are some branches that don't need second lieutenants or first lieutenants, they need captains. Military intelligence is typically one of those," she says. As such, she will serve in field artillery for a few years until she makes captain, at which point she will transition to the Military Intelligence Career Captains Course.
This decision, like many others in her journey, showcases Hiller's adaptability and strategic thinking, traits that will undoubtedly serve her well in her Army career.
Throughout her journey, the Army community has been a pillar of support for Hiller. "Everyone was incredibly excited for me. The consensus was, ‘Absolutely, you should do it. You're going to excel,’" she recalls. This support, coupled with her own determination, has seen her through the challenges and into her new role.
As a newly minted second lieutenant, Hiller is embracing the leadership responsibilities that come with the position. She draws on her experience as a parent and her previous leadership roles in the GS world to guide her. "I had no trouble directing people to move and get going because I have kids," she says. She eagerly anticipates growing in her leadership role and tackling the challenges that the Army presents.
"From the moment Mary set her sights on becoming an officer, I had no doubt that she would succeed," shares Master Sgt. Brandon Hiller, Mary's husband. "Her determination and resilience are unparalleled. I've seen her face challenges head-on, always emerging stronger on the other side. I couldn't be prouder of her accomplishments. She's not just my wife, but also an inspiration and a testament to what unwavering commitment can achieve."
Balancing personal life with her Army duties is a fluid process for Hiller. She acknowledges the sacrifices, such as missing her son's fifth-grade graduation, but views them as necessary for achieving greater things. Her family, including her husband, a Master Sergeant, has been supportive and understanding.
When asked what advice she would give to others considering a similar path, Hiller is unequivocal: "Do it." She underscores the importance of physical fitness and assures that everything else will fall into place. Regarding her choice of field artillery, she says, "I felt a strong calling to do something different."
One aspect of Army life that Hiller found surprisingly humorous was the food. "You hear stories about Army food, but you never really understand until you're there, staring at your plate," she laughs. "It's a perception versus reality situation that you can't help but find funny."
Hiller also found humor and camaraderie in the shared experiences of Army life. "There's so much comedy that happens within the Army," she says. "From being inside, you lose that stoic perspective, but we still do great, wonderful things."
She speaks fondly of her drill sergeants, noting their dedication and care for their jobs. "I had drill sergeants that I actually respect and adore, and they really cared about their job," she recalls. "I could tell that they cared."
Hiller's journey has also given her a deeper understanding and respect for her husband's role in the Army. "I understand why he is the way that he is," she says. "There's this constant checking for everything, checking his pocket, checking his arm. I used to wonder, 'Do you not remember what you put in your pockets?' But now I get it."
She laughs as she recalls the "trauma bonding" that occurs in the Army, the shared experiences that create a deep connection among those who serve. "There are terms that are permanently ingrained in your head. When you hear them, your heart and your stomach just tuck," she says.
One of the most significant bonds Hiller formed was with a woman she met during basic training. "We were probably at each other's hip to the point where if we weren't together, people would question where the other one was," she says. This bond has remained strong, even after basic training. "We are forever bonded together because of our basic experiences together," Hiller says, her voice filled with warmth and affection.
These bonds, the shared experiences, and the humor found in unexpected places, all contribute to the rich tapestry of Hiller's Army journey. It's a journey marked by resilience, growth, and an unwavering commitment to serve.
Looking ahead, Hiller is taking her Army career one year at a time. She aspires to attain the rank of Captain and is open to the possibility of serving for 20 years. But for now, she is focused on the present, embracing the challenges and opportunities that come her way.
Mary Hiller's journey serves as a powerful reminder of the opportunities that the Army offers and the resilience of those who seize them. Her story is not just about her own personal growth, but also about the potential for growth that exists within the Army community. It's a story that inspires and motivates, a story of a woman who dared to seek more, and in doing so, found her purpose.