Meet your neighbor: Active U.S. Army soldier shared journey overseas

Mackenzie Moore • Updated Jul 30, 2018 at 10:31 AM

Never has it been out of the ordinary for an elementary teacher to ask their students what they aspired to be when they grew up.

Kids often responded with careers like an astronaut, music teacher or nurse.

Hunter Gent, 23, always had something else in mind, though.

As a child, the active duty Army 19K soldier from Telford dreamed of patriotism, camouflage and perhaps a gun or two.

“Since I was little, I always wanted to be in the Army,” Gent said. “I always liked playing with and shooting guns. My father was in the Army, and I looked up to him a lot as a kid. He talked about how much he ended up loving it — the brotherhood, the camaraderie and the lifetime friends.

“I just wanted to get out of Tennessee for a while and see the world, and I got to do that very quickly after I joined.”

Gent grew up with his parents, Ralph and Kim Gent, and older sister, Candace. He spent the last three weeks on leave visiting family and catching up with friends, sharing his Army story and travels along the way.

Before departing from his base, Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, Gent spent nine months overseas, including four months in Kuwait and five months in Syria.

“As soon as I got to Texas after my basic training, I spent about three weeks getting my processing done,” he said. “Then immediately after, I was told my unit, 1-1 Cav, was going to Kuwait and Syria.”

His trip to the Middle East would serve as his first overseas deployment in the Army, and Gent admitted the news bewildered him. Gent’s company initially spent 10 days in Kuwait before departing for Syria.

“When I first arrived to Syria, I was scared, honestly,” he said. “In my mind, I feared that I was going to die as soon as I stepped off the plane. No one really had any idea what we were there to do or what the game plan was because the trip wasn’t briefed much beforehand.”

Gent’s company suffered no casualties while in Syria, but during his many nights in the guard tower his thoughts often returned to Tennessee.

“Tower shifts were eight hours of sitting up there looking out into Syria not knowing what was going to happen,” Gent said. “It really gave you a lot of time to think about your life.

“Sometimes, I thought about what my friends and family back home were doing that very moment. I’d think about how everything is sort of funny. Not funny funny, but I’d think that everyone I knew at home was doing what they usually do, and here I was stuck in a tower in Syria.”

His days in Syria provided structure different from what he’d later experience for months in Kuwait. Despite the long work shifts and little sleep, Gent said he missed Syria after returning to Kuwait for the remainder of his deployment.

“We had these little tents in Syria that we stayed in, these little blow-up tents,” Gent said. “There were six of us Joes per tent, and on average we’d get about six hours of sleep a night or day, depending on what shift we were working.

“After our shift, we showered, shaved, went to chow and then talked to our families back in the States. Then, we’d go to sleep and do it all over again. About four months into this, we got word about us going back to Kuwait from Syria. We were all pretty excited at the time, but looking back, I wish we’d stayed in Syria the entire deployment.”

When their flight landed in Kuwait, Gent’s company rode for two hours back to their base, finally arriving at 3 a.m.

“Kuwait was extremely hot and sandy,” Gent said. “It was so hot in Kuwait that I never had too much of an appetite. Probably because you’re just sweating all day there, but I’d have to force myself to eat so I’d have energy.”

Gent spent his last few months in Kuwait operating tanks and preparing them for defense.

“In Kuwait, I worked on M1A2 Abrams tanks and drove them around,” he said. “We also had a gunnery there.”

The M1 armor crewman headed back to Fort Bliss on Tuesday after spending three weeks surrounded by green mountains and familiar faces.

After his time in the military is up, the world is his oyster.

“I don’t plan on re-enlisting,” Gent said. “I joined to serve my country. It was my choice, and it’s not like anyone forced me to join, so I don’t regret it. I’ve met great people and have had the chance to see different parts of the world.

“When I’m out of the Army, I don’t see myself coming back to Tennessee to live. I’m interested in seeing more of the world, living in different places and discovering different job opportunities that I might not get here.”

Gent has two years left and is due for another deployment to Poland and Germany in 2020, so see the world he shall.

Military terminology

  • 19K- A U.S. Army soldier whose main job objectives involve working and operating tanks.
  • 1-1 CAV - 1st Squadron, 1st Calvary Regiment. A combat division of the U.S. Army.
  • Joes - A lower-enlisted soldier, shortened from G.I. Joe.
  • M1A2 Abrams - An American-made battle tank.
  • M1 Armor Crewman - Synonymous to 19K.
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