Experience

CGA experience planted service seed

Jan Garrison
 

'What will be your service story?'

 

November 12, 2021

Tawnee Hinton ’88 never considered serving in the military until she came to Culver Academies in 1985. But her time here lit a fire that has led to a 25-year career in the United States Navy and Naval Reserve.

Lt. Cmdr. Hinton was the Veterans Day keynote speaker during the year-long 50th anniversary celebration of Culver Girls Academy. After graduating from CGA, she attended and graduated from Butler University, and then joined the Navy in 1997.

She started as a Yeoman Third Class and moved up the ranks to Chief Petty Officer in 2005, followed by a direct commission as an intelligence officer in 2009. She is assigned to the Farragut Technical Analyst Center at the Office of Naval Intelligence out of the National and Space Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Hinton currently works as a private investigator and resides with her husband, Christopher, who is a 31-year veteran of the Navy, and their four children in Indianapolis.

She offered the crowd a brief history of Veterans Day, telling them it was established “as a celebration to honor all American veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice and to honor those who have served or continue to serve our great nation.”

“So, what does service look like to you?” she asked. “What does it mean to you? Culver’s core values include Duty, Honor, Truth, and Service. So, look around. Take a look at your classmates. Do you see a future military leader amongst you, do you have plans for military service, or do you have plans for other ways to serve? What is Culver preparing you for?”

Culver has a long history of inspiring young men and women to serve, Hinton continued, whether it is serving their class or school or serving in other ways after graduation. “The lessons you learn here, the opportunities you have here, will shape you into who you will become. So how will you use this time? How will you serve?”

Serving in today’s all-volunteer military is a spirit that lives within the veteran, she said. Serving in the military is “a calling and when you are called to serve you will eventually accept that call. I felt such a call and I believe Culver inspired it, helped me recognize it, and prepared me for it and all that my 25 years in the Navy has brought me.”

 

Regimental Commander Mitchell Schott '22 leads the Corps of Cadets down Pershing Walk.

 

Hinton remembers listening to the speaker at her first Veterans Day speaker at the boarding school.

“As I listened, I was filled with a sense of pride, a sense of understanding of what this day was really about,” she said. “As I flinched with each gun salute, I was thinking about Culver’s history and contributions to our country’s service. I felt, for the first time, that twinge of a call to serve my country.”

While she held leadership positions within CGA and was inspired by many members of the faculty, Hinton found “the unique experience that is Culver allowed me to be influenced by the military faculty and staff here at Culver as well. Faculty and staff like Master Sgt. (Mark) Click, Maj. (Bill) Browne, and Lt. Col. (Dave) Baker were influential in my later decision to join the Navy, though at the time, I’m sure none of us would have thought that to be the case. These veterans impacted me wholly and in ways I never imagined at the time.”

Her time in the Navy “has been filled with some amazing opportunities to develop myself, lead some amazing people, and even travel the world,” Hinton said. “But to be a part of those that have the opportunity to defend our freedoms is what has kept me in the Navy for over 25 years.”

Her service has not come without sacrifices. She missed her 30th class reunion while on deployment with the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, Djibouti. But, Hinton said, her “Culver family” (some were present Thursday) included her with messages, gifts, and a class message “sent to the other side of the world. My time at Culver not only embedded a strong character and developed leadership skills that have served me well throughout my career, but it provided me with a family like no other. You are blessed to have the opportunity to join this family as well.”

Culver has always paid its proper and honorable respect to this day “at the 11th hour of the 11th day in the 11th month,” Hinton said. “You may not look at this as more than a blip in your day but I promise you, you will look back on this with a sense of pride. I could not be more honored to be up here speaking with you today.”

Hinton finished by challenging each student to “thank a veteran for their service today. Ask them their service story. You never know where life will lead you and how that moment, that story, will impact your life. What will be your story of service?”

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