Navy Lieutenant’s experience ‘made me who I am today’

By Rick Hinton

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Tawnee Hinton’s journey began simple enough. Growing up in the small, rural community of Greentown in northern Indiana – just outside of Kokomo – was comfortable. And, as with most children, she had those she looked up to. “My grandfather embedded into me what a Christian should be,” Hinton said. “He served his country and always put his family first.”

Growing up near Grissom Air Force Base, she had a lot of friends whose families were involved in the Air Force, but she really had no aspirations for a military career. Attending Culver Girls Academy – a college preparatory boarding school near South Bend – seemed to light the fuse. She then attended Butler University in Indianapolis. “I graduated and started moving through the things I wanted to do in life yet felt like something was missing.” The missing link, she decided, was the military. Hinton enlisted in the Navy in 1997. “I had the feeling I was supposed to be there,” she summarized.

The Navy in Indiana?

“I went to enlist in the National Guard because it was the only thing I knew about,” she stated. She visited a recruiter, hoping that would help her to figure out where she should be and thinking a college degree might help her in becoming an officer. The enlisted recruiter steered her to a “great” program that his buddy ran out of the Navy. “This recruiter literally sent me from the National Guard to the Navy!” Hinton laughed.

Tawnee Hinton with her family: husband, Christopher and three of their four children: Christian, Avarie, Leyton and Amelia. (Submitted photos)

It was off to New Orleans for basic training, with her primary station after being back to Indiana and the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Crane Naval Base. The life of a Yeoman was never boring. “Whatever you did, whether it be security, information systems, working for an admiral, communications, training and development, public affairs, or journalism … it’s all vital,” Hinton said.

She transitioned into the Reserve, where she met her future husband, Christopher after they were placed in the same Reserve unit, mobilized for security, after 9/11. “After 9/11, it didn’t matter what you did before – everyone did security!” It was back to Crane for almost two years after 9/11 with a marriage in the mix. For the first five years of the marriage he was gone for three on deployment.

Sept. 11 attacks and the effects upon serving

The Sept. 11 attacks changed the mood of the country as did the face of patriotism afterward. “After 9/11, being in the military was interesting because we had so many people knocking on the door to get in because they wanted to serve. The fact that we had that is what makes us a great nation!” she offered.

Tawnee met her future husband, Christopher after they were placed in the same Reserve unit.

The Hintons reside in Franklin Township along with their four children, Christian, Avarie, Leyton and Amelia. “They’ve never known anything other than us (dad and mom) being in the service,” Hinton claimed. The children are not always thrilled with the absences that come with the territory, as are the parents. “I returned last December after being deployed for 14 months,” she said. “My baby went from a 3- to a 5-year-old in school. My daughter went from 12 to being a teenager. It’s hard.”

Hinton’s last deployment to Djibouti in the Horn of Africa took her out of her comfort zone and challenged her. “It was a different type of job working with embassies throughout Africa, training other military forces that were our allies and learning a new culture,” she said. “You had all these balls in the air as you’re trying to just do your job!”

Would Hinton change anything in her past? “No,” she quickly replied. “God has a plan and you work through it. I went to the wrong recruiter in my opinion, but I don’t have a minute of regret because it made me who I am today. I feel that everything we do – even if we stumble and fall – we fall for a reason, and it teaches you something in the end.”