ROTC alum commands army base in Afghanistan

1st Lt. Liz Hunt '05, the soldier lying in the front of the foreground above, practices at a range with two fellow soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a three-part series profiling young alumni who have joined the military since graduation. Today’s article features Liz Hunt ’05.

For Liz Hunt ’05, the path after Dartmouth did not lead to a consulting job in New York or back to the Iowa cattle farm where she grew up. A first lieutenant in the Army’s Chemical Corps, she oversees the daily operations at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan.

She does not get weekends off or vacation days, and starts every day with a 5 a.m. workout before coordinating assignments between soldiers, civilian contractors and local people.

Hunt said she was drawn to the Army in part because it offered her a level of responsibility not available to most people her age. She was in charge of 20 soldiers straight out of college before becoming base commander at Salerno.

“I do not know of any other organization where you are given so much responsibility at such a young age,” she said in an e-mail. “You learn that what you thought were your limits really are not and that you can go much farther than you ever expected.”

Hunt said she also joined the Army because it gave her the chance to challenge herself physically and mentally.

“You learn your strengths and weaknesses quickly in the military, and you are forced to deal with your weaknesses,” she said. “For example, I am very quiet by nature and hate public speaking. But as a leader, I have to speak up in order to protect my troops and express my concerns to my superiors.”

She said she is happy that she was sent to Afghanistan instead of Iraq for her 15-month deployment. (The Army recently extended deployments from 12 months to 15.)

“Afghanistan is not as exciting as Iraq — the people want us here, we are building up the economy, we are making steady gains against the Taliban — there is not as much turmoil and chaos as there is in Iraq,” Hunt said. “The mission here is much clearer and we have a good understanding of our goals.”

Living in Afghanistan has given Hunt the opportunity get to know Afghans and their culture, and she spends many of her free moments unwinding with locals and fellow soldiers over a meal or a game of volleyball.

“They invite us over for lunch or dinner frequently and they always prepare tons of food. It’s pretty amazing: For a populace that is so incredibly poor, they are very hospitable and want to share so much with us,” she said.

Every Friday, Hunt finishes another week in Afghanistan by eating ice cream served by the base’s dining facilities.

“I love ice cream and look forward to it all week,” Hunt said. “If you count days, it gets depressing. When you cross off a week, it feels like an accomplishment.”

To prepare for her deployment, which started in January, Hunt went through a series of demanding courses that focused on leadership training. She was then based in Ft. Lewis, Wash., before her deployment in Afghanistan.

Hunt spent three years in Dartmouth’s ROTC — much of it as the only woman in the group — in preparation for her service.

Despite this demanding commitment, she found time to work as a manager at Topside. There she met her boyfriend of four years, Joska Reid, who is now a manager at Food Court. The distance caused by her training and deployment has created challenges for their relationship, Hunt said, but the pair is still going strong.

“We all expect to be separated from our loved ones for a while during our period of service. Doesn’t make it any easier though,” she said. “It takes a lot of work to keep a relationship going while you’re deployed.”

Friends say that Hunt has an unusual propensity for giving to others, a tendency that developed in part because her family took in foster children throughout her childhood. She was made aware of how fortunate she was and how difficult others’ lives can be.

“She has the best heart of almost anyone I know,” Meredith Wilson ’07 said. “I think that Liz just recognizes the good in people for what it is. And I think she just has a lot of good in her too.”

Hunt found the time to volunteer regularly at Dartmouth, working at Hannah House for pregnant teenagers. Along with Wilson, she also founded the Iraqi Kids Project, which distributed 26 large boxes of goods in 2005 to Iraqi children through a soldier friend.

But Hunt is unlikely to take credit for these acts of kindness, according to friends.

“She’s a consistently good person,” close friend Austine Kuder ’05 said. “All through Dartmouth she’d be doing community service but you’d never hear about it.”

Serving in the military is another way for Hunt to help, friends say.

“Liz is the person my age that I admire the most,” Kuder said. “I hope she inspires students at Dartmouth to care about service of others as much as she does.”

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