CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Marine Corps Cpl. James Hibler enlisted to help secure the best options for his future.
The UH-1Y Huey helicopter crew chief with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, grew up in Arlington, Texas. His father and brother both served in the military, he said, so he knew where to turn when he decided he needed a change.
“I went to the University of North Texas and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice,” Hibler said. “I didn’t want a normal job, so I decided to join the Marine Corps.”
Before enlisting, Hibler received a harsh reminder of what the price of service might be. On April 6, 2011, one of his friends from elementary school, Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith, was killed in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Hibler spent about five months in the Marine Corps Delayed Entry Program before leaving for California to start his training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego in January 2012.
Career Choice Inspired By Images of Vietnam
While the Marine Corps offers a variety of potential jobs, Hibler said, his career choice was inspired by imagery from the era in which his father served.
“If you look at iconic pictures and videos of Vietnam, you see Hueys coming over the trees,” he said. “What better job than to fly around in a Huey, shooting machine guns?”
As a crew chief, Hibler helps ensure the aircraft is safe to fly and serves as a door gunner in combat. He described one of the days on the job that gave him a sense of fulfillment as a Marine. It involved lots of hard work and a .50-caliber machine gun.
“We went to go shoot at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, and everywhere we flew, there was snow on the ground,” Hibler said. “The .50-cali I was shooting broke, so we had to get the ammo to another helicopter.
“We landed in a field and had to carry about 800 rounds of ammo 200 yards uphill,” he continued, “but every step we took, we would sink four or five inches into the soil. We only have a certain amount of time on station when we can deploy our weapons systems before we have to leave, so we had to hurry.”
‘It Was Miserable, But It Was Kind of Fun’
By the time he and his fellow Marines had transferred the ammunition, Hibler said, they were completely soaked in sweat. “Then we had to run back to our helicopter and keep flying around, and it was about 40 degrees outside,” he added. “It was miserable, but it was kind of fun.”
But the happiest moments of his career so far have just been getting to know his fellow Marines, Hibler said.
“It’s when you’re sitting out on the flightline with a couple of your fellow crew chiefs waiting to go test some helicopters, or when you fly out to Twentynine Palms and you’re waiting for a fuel truck and you have down time, just sitting in the back of a Huey talking to your buddies,” he said. “That’s when you get personal with people. You get to know one another.”
Praise From Noncommissioned Officers
Hibler has developed a reputation with his fellow noncommissioned officers.
“His maturity shows on a day-to-day basis,” said Marine Corps Sgt. Robert Brown, also a UH-1Y crew chief. “He comes in and does what he needs to do to get his job done, and now as a corporal, he keeps his Marines on track.”
His NCOs added that they think he will continue to be successful after he leaves the Marine Corps.
“I think whatever he sets his mind to he’s going to do,” said another crew chief in the squadron, Marine Corps Sgt. Eric Seaman. “He’s already got a plan going right now, and as long as he continues on the outside world what he did here, he will achieve whatever he needs to do.”
Opportunities After Service
Aside from being part of an elite fighting force, Hibler said, he was drawn to the Marine Corps by the opportunities that would be available when he completes his enlistment.
“When you’re in the Marine Corps, you meet so many people and open up avenues for yourself when you get out,” he said. “Everybody likes to hire a veteran, plus you will always have that sense of pride of being a Marine.”
Hibler said he plans to use his education in his post-military life in conjunction with the skills he gains during his service, perhaps serving with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“They all have helicopters,” he said, “so I want to try to pursue a career related to flying and stay working for a federal agency.”