MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- On Aug. 16, 1983, 18-year-old Kenneth E. Hunt Jr. stepped onto the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif. From that day forward, he dedicated his life, and eventually sacrificed it, in the service of his country and fellow Marines.
On July 24, Master Sgt. Hunt was providing security as part of a six-vehicle improvised-explosive-device response team with Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 in Al Taqaddum, Iraq. A large explosion near one of the vehicles wounded four Marines, and while the team gave the wounded first aid, Hunt’s vehicle, an armored Humvee, hit an anti-tank mine. Hunt suffered burns to over 60 percent of his body in the explosion. He was medically evacuated to Balad, Iraq, and then transported to Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, on July 26.
Hunt died of cardiac arrest Oct. 12 due to complications from the wounds he received. He is survived by his wife Maria and two children, Kenneth III and Kimberly, all of whom were with him when he died.
With him passed a wealth of skill, knowledge and esprit de corps, but the legacy he leaves behind, all the lives he touched along the way, will remain with the Corps, said Col. John J. Broadmeadow, who served as MWSS-371’s commanding officer before and during the recent deployment.
“I really believe, in his loss, we can celebrate the legacy of the Marine Corps and the sacrifice of a Marine for his fellow Marines,” said Broadmeadow.
Hunt was an infantryman. He served as a Marine Security Guard, as a heavy machine gunner and squad leader with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, and later with the 3rd Marines of the 1st Marine Division as machine gun section leader, platoon sergeant and platoon commander. He did a tour as a drill instructor at MCRD San Diego, and then returned to 1/1 where he served as platoon sergeant for the Combined Anti-tank Platoon. During this time, he also served as a heavy machine gun instructor at 1st Division schools. He spent three years as an instructor and platoon commander at the School of Infantry, which included a deployment to Kaunas, Lithuania, where he cross-trained Lithuanian noncommissioned officers in small-unit tactics.
In August 1999, he came to Yuma, where he served as detachment first sergeant and ground military specialist officer with the Personnel Support Detachment of Marine Aircraft Group 13. From MAG-13, Hunt transferred to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and became the squadron ground training officer. In October 2004, he became the squadron gunnery sergeant of MWSS-371.
Hunt traveled all over Asia and the Middle East, and participated in Operations Team Spirit, Southern Watch, Iron Magic, and more recently, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom I and III.
Hunt was dedicated to the Corps and his Marines, but he was also a very dedicated family man. He was a loving husband and father, and his family never felt second-best to the Marine Corps, said Hunt’s wife of 20 years, Maria, who was by his bedside from the day he arrived at Brooke Army Medical Center to the moment he died.
Hunt was able to separate his work from his family life. He was a man known in the Corps to have a powerful and vivid vocabulary, but never once cursed at home, said Maria.
“He had a tough job to do, but, with us, we’ve never seen that side of him,” Maria said. “He was always very compassionate with us.”
Hunt was considering retirement when he deployed with MWSS-371. He decided to go for another tour and Maria supported his decision, she said.
“I knew that he was doing what he wanted to do,” said Maria. “That’s why, when people ask me if I’m angry, (I answer,) no, I don’t feel angry. I don’t feel anger toward anybody or anything, because I know he was doing what he wanted to do. If he could have told me, he probably would have told me that this is the way he wanted it to be.”
Hunt spent the majority of his 22-year career in teaching positions, leading Marines and teaching them how to be proficient riflemen and leaders.
“He had the mix -- the mix of technical skills, communication skills and personality that really made people want to learn from him. He had skill and charisma all at the same time,” said retired Chief Warrant Officer 4 Ed Virden, who now manages the MAG-13 nuclear, biological and chemical warehouse here. While with MAG-13, Virden deployed to OIF I with Hunt.
An example of Hunt’s initiative and dedication to training Marines is the station corporal’s course, which Hunt, with the help of retired Sgt. Maj. Brian Lindstrom, former station sergeant major, established while he was assigned to MAG-13.
“He was directly responsible for finding a permanent space on the air station for the purpose of creating enlisted leaders,” Virden said. “He personally administered the procurement of the building, and he managed construction activities and the purchase of equipment. That building should be dedicated in his honor.”
Hunt impacted not only junior Marines, but those senior to him as well.
“I’ve spent twenty-three years around the Marine Corps, and he’s one of the few men who have impacted me most in my own professional career,” said Broadmeadow, who added that Hunt was one of the people who contributed most to the success of MWSS-371’s recent deployment.
Hunt made sure the Marines had all the infantry knowledge to keep themselves safe and accomplish the mission. He instilled confidence in the Marines wherever he went, said Lt. Col. Richard Musser, MWSS-371 executive officer.
“Everyone knew that he knew exactly what he was doing, so when they were outside the wire doing something dangerous, they got the feeling that everything was going to be OK,” Musser said. “He was the finest Marine I’ve ever worked with.”
Hunt would often pull Marines out of vehicles going on patrol, and take their place to give them time off. He put himself in danger in order to keep his Marines safe.
Besides keeping the Marines combat ready, Hunt also boosted the squadron’s morale by holding events, such as a talent show and field meet, to keep the Marines occupied during lulls in the deployment, said 1st Lt. Josh Summers, MWSS-371 adjutant.
Sgt. Joshua Portz said Hunt was always excited to join the Marines on the convoy and take an aggressive position in the gun turret, where he could observe all sectors of fire.
“All the words that you can think of that describe the Corps -- motivator, educator, leader, honor, commitment -- all those words describe Master Sergeant Hunt. He was a great man,” said Portz.
Hunt would go out of his way to help you, but was quick to correct you if you were in the wrong, said Lt. Col. Ed Sexton, station airfield operations officer, who also deployed with Hunt during OIF I.
Though Hunt intimidated many Marines when they first met him, after a while they got to see his compassionate side. Two such Marines are Cpl. Arturo De La Mora, H&HS training noncommissioned officer-in-charge, and Charity Hobson, who got out of the Corps recently and now works for Marine Corps Community Services retail department. They worked closely with Hunt at H&HS training, where he completely reorganized the section, creating a filing system and database, developed a program for weight-control Marines and much more, they said.
Hunt, like a good leader, got to know these two Marines personally. When he saw they were having problems, he would pull them aside and talk to them. Hunt became a father figure for both of them.
“We tried to always do our best for him -- to work to the best of out abilities, because we always wanted him to be proud of us,” said Hobson. “He was a great leader.”
De La Mora said Hunt was a man who could always be trusted to get the job done, and now he tries to do the same. Hunt became his idol, he said.
“He was just; he was fair; he always made the right judgment,” De La Mora said. “He knew everything. He had the endurance to run the weight-control Marines. He had the initiative to start new projects -- before it needed to be done, he was thinking about it. He was the whole package, a stellar Marine.
“He impacted so many lives in the Marine Corps, and I’m sure that there’s going to be future Master Sgt. Hunts out there,” De La Mora continued.
Sexton has a son who is a Marine infantryman currently deployed to Iraq.
“I always hoped my son would deploy with a guy like Master Sergeant Hunt,” Sexton said. “I’d rather my son go to combat with Master Sergeant Hunt than anybody else I know, he’s just that kind of guy.”
At the top of Hunt’s personal web site is a quote by British author George Orwell. Sexton said that quote embodied how Hunt saw himself. It reads, “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”