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Marilyn Hunt: Woman of strength

| December 5, 2010 8:00 PM

How's this for a typical day?

On weekdays, Marilyn Hunt gets up, has a prayer time, feeds the dogs and goes to Mass. The Post Falls woman tries to exercise three days a week, then run errands and spend the rest of the day trying to "stay afloat" with all her obligations to the Disabled American Veterans, Military Officers Association of America and her church.

Those obligations include such things as filling Flat Rate boxes with goodies for the troops overseas (her DAV chapter just sent 61 boxes to four locations), picking up newly embroidered DAV hats from TPI embroidery, xeroxing DAV minutes at the Post Falls UPS store, mailing MOAA membership applications at the post office, buying hand warmers and toe warmers for the troops, buying red felt for the DAV Christmas stockings, writing the agenda for a DAVA meeting, updating her MOAA list of recruits, getting people to sign legislative letters for MOAA, and distributing her church's prayer chain list.

But wait. There's more.

Here it is.

Can you talk about your military career and how you got involved in the military?

My dad suggested I join the Navy. So in June 1970, right after college, I went to Women Officers School in Newport, R.I. This was the only way to become a woman officer then because women were not allowed to go to OCS with the men, nor could we join an ROTC Unit or go to the Naval Academy. The Navy was my ticket to leave home, get a good job and quit baby-sitting! I retired as a Commander in 1992 after 22 years on active duty.

My first duty station was VT-26 (Jet Training Squadron 26) in Beeville, Texas. I was one of three women officers among 600 male officers (including student pilots), 1,200 enlisted men and zero enlisted women assigned to three squadrons on the base. Our mission was to train newly minted Navy pilots how to fly jets and land on aircraft carriers. I was the Personnel Officer, responsible for the service records of 400 enlisted men. While there, I got to fly in the backseat of an F-9 fighter jet from Texas to Minnesota twice, complete with flight suit, G-suit, helmet, boots and oxygen mask.

I was afraid of flying, but I was out of money and this was the cheapest way to get out of Texas for awhile. About 15 minutes before we landed in Minnesota on our first trip, my pilot (without warning) took the plane into a nose dive from about 30,000 feet to 12,000 feet, did an aileron (flipped it over completely) and then went back up to altitude.

I thought maybe I shouldn't get too upset or he might do it again, so I calmly asked him what that was about. He said that's where he was going to stay and he wanted them to know he was there. He blew a tire when we landed at the Air National Guard, but he was such a skilled aviator (from hundreds of hours in Vietnam) that I didn't even know it.

He kept the plane level, parked it and we got out. That's when I learned that the Navy doesn't carry spares. We were there for a three-day weekend, so the Navy sent another pilot up on Tuesday with a tire and we flew back that day. On the second trip, we didn't have enough oxygen or fuel to get back to Texas and the Guard didn't have any, so we flew to Fort Campbell, Ky., for fuel and then to NAS Meridian, Miss., for oxygen. When we landed in Texas, I woke up on landing because my helmet was banging against the canopy. I decided that it was stupid to be afraid of flying if you were going to fall asleep.

Have you ever felt that as a woman you were treated differently than men while in the military?

Absolutely. However, it's important to remember that things were evolving over time and women of my generation paved the way for women today, just as women (such as WASPs) paved the way for us. I am not the kind of woman who likes to play the "women's lib victim" and whine about "how bad it was." Rather, I am truly grateful for my Navy career and when people say "Thank you for your service," I reply by saying "It was my pleasure" because it truly was. Like all things in life, there were rough spots but I now consider those times to have given me a huge advantage because they made me strong, resilient, flexible and compassionate.

What led you to be so involved in the DAV?

I broke my neck by falling 75 feet down a 300-foot cliff while on active duty in the Navy. Fortunately, Bob rescued me; but to recover, I wore a halo brace for three months and luckily was not paralyzed.

However, I do have residual problems in my neck. The DAV helped me apply for VA disability and I also filed a limited power of attorney with the DAV, which allowed them to review the VA's final decision before sending it to me.

The DAV was my "free advocate," so to speak. I've always been extremely grateful for their help, so I joined DAV Ft. Sherman Chapter 9 and I've also been very active in the Auxiliary for several years. That's really where my heart is because we make such things as CPAP cozies, neckwarmers, neckcoolers and Christmas stockings for veterans. We've donated hundreds of them to the three veterans homes in Idaho and to the VAMC Spokane Respiratory Therapy Unit. This year, I was elected Commander of DAVA Ft. Sherman Unit 9. This happened when our former Commander, Sandy Doutre, became DAVA State Commander.

What needs to be done for our veterans today that isn't being done?

Let me count the things that should be done:

1. Our National Guard should be given retirement credit between 2001 and 2008.

2. Our widows whose husbands died because of their military service should not have their survivor benefits offset by their VA benefits, as they are two separate issues.

3. Our military retiree medical care is called Tricare and it's based on Medicare. This threatened 25 percent reduction in premium to doctors in December, followed by another 6 percent in January, means yes you can have medical care if you can find a doctor who will give it to you.

4. It was decided more than 25 years ago that we would have an all-volunteer force and no draft. This costs money. The constant deployment of the Guard and Reserve is a de facto substitute for the draft. If you're going to call the Guard up every two years for a two-year combat deployment, they need to be richly compensated in pay, benefits, retirement and medical care.

5. Our Idaho legislators need to allow all disabled veterans to have Disabled Veterans license plates and use the state parks for free. Right now, only those with 100 percent VA disability can do this.

When it came to your military career, what guided you in your decision making?

I was tailor-made for the Navy. I attended Catholic schools all my life, so organization, structure and authority were the norm for me. I loved the Navy because I was doing something "bigger than myself" - serving my country - and at the same time I was developing strong leadership skills, supervising other people, honing my writing ability and meeting people from all over the country. I learned to think on my feet, be flexible and solve problems. I got paid for this too and it really should have been the other way around! On top of that, I got a new job at least every three years and didn't have to write a resume or go to job interviews, and I got promoted if I did an outstanding job. There was always a challenge and something new. In a nutshell, the Navy was NOT BORING and it paid decently!

Is America still as patriotic as ever, or has love of country diminished over the years?

I'm not a pollster, but from my limited naval observatory I believe this is a patriotic country. The people I associate with on a daily basis are the members of St. George's Catholic parish, the Divine Mercy prayer group at St. Pius X, the Disabled American Veterans and the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA). I can tell you without any doubt that they are the salt of the Earth and as patriotic as they come.

Where did you grow up and what did you like to do?

Mostly in Billings, Mont. I was the oldest of eight children, so I became the "other mother." What I liked to do wasn't of much importance. I baby-sat a lot and took charge of the younger kids, getting them to clean house, do dishes, fold clothes, vacuum and make their beds. There was very little money in our house, so when I wanted something, I got a job to pay for it. I paid my tuition through my junior and senior year of high school by working as a janitor at my grade school, then paid my way through college by getting a scholarship, grants and loans from the National Defense Authorization Act, and working as a nurse's aide, secretary, teacher's aide, hospital kitchen aide, packer for a moving company and by supervising kids who washed dishes at the Montana State Children's Home during the summer. I can assure you that this builds character and commitment - good traits for a successful Navy career.

What kind of influence did your parents have on you?

My parents influenced me in ways that they probably didn't realize at the time. First of all, I learned to love my faith and that marriage was for keeps. Secondly, I learned to take care of other people, earn my own way, take care of my belongings, keep my word and be honest. My mother especially taught me to be on time, get good grades and do what Sister said.

My dad was a Realtor and he taught me the most important thing about buying a house: "Location, location, location."

Do you and your husband Robert work together on DAV issues?

Yes, we do. Right now we're in the middle of the huge annual DAV Christmas project which involves buying presents for children of veterans who are having a hard time this year. Bob gets the names of such folks mostly from the County Veterans Service Officer, the Veterans Rep at the Dept. of Labor and from local contacts in the Guard and Reserve. We usually end up with about 60 kids in 20 families. He contacts the parents to find out what the children would like, then goes shopping for those things and for toys and candy. I help him by getting the Auxiliary to buy the presents for the infants and toddlers, and by helping him organize everything. We then have a gigantic Christmas "wrapping party" at St. George's Catholic Church, followed by a big Auxiliary potluck. All of this is possible because of the donations we get from the public. Anyone who wants to help should write a check to DAV Chapter 9 and send it to Robert Hunt, 2536 W. Falling Star Loop, Post Falls, ID 83854. Bob will then send them a letterhead receipt. They can also call us at 773-1074 if they have questions.

Why is volunteering important to you?

Volunteering makes my life worthwhile. I'm able to do the things that I do best (being of service and working with people, writing, asking for donations, organizing, coordinating) and do them in my own style.

One of the great things about being a volunteer is that it's hard to get fired! I think of myself as a full-time unpaid volunteer. I was president of the Spokane Chapter, MOAA from '05-07 and '09.

During that time we became a 5 Star Chapter and I'm now the Chief Recruiter and Newsletter Editor. I write six newsletters per year and am constantly on the lookout for new members. To join MOAA, one simply needs to be a former or present officer with honorable service. One does NOT have to be retired! Active duty officers can have a free year of membership. Or, former officers can have two years of membership for $28 instead of the normal $62. Both offers have no strings attached. Just call me at 773-1074 and I'll take care of it.

Date of birth: Feb. 26, 1948

Education: B.S. English and Secondary Education, Eastern Montana College (now MSU Billings); M.Ed. Providence College, Providence, R.I.

Family: Husband Bob, stepdaughter Kristy, her husband Pat and three granddaughters.

Hobbies: Sewing (especially serging) and traveling

Favorite book: Mitford Series novels by Jan Karon

Favorite author: Jan Karon

Favorite movie: "It's a Wonderful Life"

Favorite type of music: Oak Ridge Boys and Statler Brothers

Favorite spectator sport: Watching my dogs run and play in the backyard.

Best advice you ever received: When you get a new job, WATCH and LISTEN, find out WHY people do what they do, and don't make changes right away.

Person who most influenced your life: My husband Bob. He's taught me the art of being generous with my time, talent and resources.

Quality you admire most in a person: Integrity and commitment

Any one thing you consider your greatest accomplishment: Being married for almost 31 years

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