In the few years that elapsed following his graduation from Matewan High School in 1983, Terry Hope, now 54, wasn’t altogether definite about what his life would entail going forward.
All he knew for sure was that many of his closest friends — even his brother — had already left or were intending to leave their Mingo County homes to serve in some branch of the military.
“One day, I looked up and it seemed as if I was the only one left,” Hope said. “I was now 23, so I knew that if I was going to make a similar move, I probably should be doing it sooner than later. It seemed like the right thing to do, so that’s what I did.”
Hope chose the combat engineer division of the United States Army. The year was 1988, a time when the world seemed to be in a relatively quiet and passive mood.
The fact that he would get to return and serve for a time with Delta Company 478th Engineer Battalion Army Reserves at its Pikeville, Kentucky, base of operations following his basic training only seemed to confirm that, in the spring of 1989 at least, not too much in the way of trouble lay immediately ahead for the U. S. military.
Even when he was sent to Fort Hood in Texas in May of 1990, both to officially place him on active duty status as well as afford him additional training, the world still appeared to be maintaining itself in a relatively low-key and stable disposition.
Then came August, 1990, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army invaded and annexed Kuwait, ultimately touching off the U.S. led “Operation Desert Storm.”
As a member of the Tiger Brigade (among other duties, the mechanized engineers are charged with breeching and marking mine fields as well as protecting supply units in the combat zone in support of the tanks), Hope “was now in the thick of it.”
“We not only saw and had to deal with a great deal of death and carnage, but once we got into the combat zone the oilfields were on fire and it was tough just to breathe and function,” he said.
Although the Operation Desert Storm mission was successfully accomplished by late February, 1991, Hope said this military action was the toughest of all his tours overseas because it was offensive the entire time they were there.
“The heat was terrible and dysentery was constant, but you didn’t stop for anything … you kept the pressure on and you were always moving forward,” he said. “I had lost so much weight from the heat and diarrhea that when my mom saw me she said I looked more like a prisoner of war than I did a victorious soldier.”
Following the conclusion of Desert Storm, Hope came back to Fort Hood. His stay, however, was short-lived because, less than a year later, he would be shipped out to South Korea for additional mechanized and cold-weather training.
After his Korea tour of duty was completed Hope came back to Fort Drum in New York, where he remained until his unit was again sent to another hotspot — Haiti.
“The military had overthrown the government and both the army and navy were sent in to restore the government,” he said. “The Haitian military really didn’t put up much of a fight so it only took about six months for that deployment, which really ended up being a humanitarian mission more than it was anything else.”
It was following this mission that Hope seriously began considering getting out of the military.
“I came back to Fort Drum and received my rank of E-5 and actually made up my mind to get out and come home,” he said. “But I almost immediately decided to go into the West Virginia National Guard. I would stay there and train as a heavy equipment mechanic for the next few years.”
hen, enter Osama Bin Laden and the terrorists’ attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I never thought I’d be back in the Middle East, but eventually our guard unit was deployed to the Middle East as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom,” he said. “Generally my job this time was to go out and help retrieve damaged tanks and other equipment and bring them back to be repaired and put back into service, which you can imagine could get extremely dangerous because a lot of times you’re right up at the front.
“In fact, one of the guys in our guard unit, Sgt. Deforest Talbert, was killed in Baladruc (Iraq) in July of 2004.”
Hope finally retired from the Army in 2008 after making the rank of E-6 and reaching 20 years of service. He currently works as a guard at the Social Security Administration Office in Williamson.
Like most veterans, Hope asserts he has never harbored any regrets for having spent so much of his life in the service of his country.
“If you asked me if I’d do it all again at this stage in my life, at age 53, I would probably have to say no because I’m obviously much older and less physically capable now,” he said. “But if I could go back to when I was 23, I wouldn’t hesitate even a second to emphatically say yes, I would do it all over again.
“For me, it was the right thing to do. So there’s absolutely no question in my mind that I’d do it all over again and do it just the way I did it.”