The U.S. Army considers itself a values-based organization, inculcating new recruits from the infancy of boot camp in its ethos: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. Sgt. Colton Hurley never knew his mother, a combat medic who passed away when he was just a baby, but he knew what she believed in, and he joined the Army to honor her.
Krystal Hurley earned the rank of sergeant in just two years; so did he. She served in a war zone; he’s in one now.
Deployed to Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, 22-year-old Hurley is an infantry team leader in the famed 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
“She wanted to do 20 years, so I’m going to do her 20 years for her,” he said while on patrol in Muqor, a busy town in Afghanistan’s restive Ghazni Province.
That afternoon, the small combat outpost that Hurley’s unit shares with Afghan soldiers was hit by a dozen mortar rounds, injuring several soldiers. Hurley was among those caring for the injured even before the barrage abated, close enough to the incoming blasts that medics had to screen him for traumatic brain injury.
Muqor is a dangerous place, and the Hannibal, Mo., native is already familiar with the snap-and-pop of enemy bullets cracking the air overhead while he and fellow paratroopers patrol the grape fields, mud-walled kalats and dry wadis that make up this part of eastern Afghanistan.
His primary concern is the welfare of his soldier, Pfc. Dustin Vanvelzen. “I personally told his mom he would be coming home safe,” said Hurley.
According to his wife, Sarah, Hurley is always this way, selfless and humble, and putting others first. “There is a saying,” she said. “‘Don’t marry a man unless you would be proud to have a son exactly like him.’ I am proud that he is my husband, and I know that he will teach our children the same values.”
Hurley’s squad leader, Staff Sgt. Ron Hartford, a 15-year veteran, said that Hurley acted like a non-commissioned officer even when he was a specialist. “He is always trying to implement the Army Values, making sure his soldiers are trained and taking care of,” said Hartford. “He knows every bit of his job.”
Though Hurley deployed to Iraq for a few months in 2010, he considers the current tour in Ghazni his first real deployment. When his company arrived in Muqor this February, rations were short, and they had no showers for over a month. Roadside bombs were a constant threat to the military and civilian population.
Now one of the most notorious branches off Highway 1 is a safe, major travel route, and merchants in Muqor’s bazaar report that business is thriving. “We’re making it through, day by day,” said Hurley. “I’ll be proud to stand tall as a combat veteran.”
Page 2 of 2 - He knows his mother would be proud.