For one Robeson Community College student, Makayla Hunt, seeing the unrest play out in places like Ukraine and the Middle East has her paying closer attention to the news these days.
That’s because she serves as a sergeant in the North Carolina National Guard and she knows at any moment in time she can be deployed.
“I am more observant of my surroundings,” said Makayla, who has been deployed during conflict before.
Makayla enlisted in the National Guard in 2017 at the age of 17, while she was still in high school.
“I wasn’t ready to go to college, but I knew that I needed to do something in the meantime, so I had my parents sign the contract so that I could enlist.”
Five years later, Makayla says it was the best decision she could have made for her life.
“Joining the Guard helped me find my purpose… It has given me more stability for my future.”
Not one to follow the crowd, Makayla wanted to chart her own path.
“I wanted to add more value to my life and be a part of something much bigger than myself and help serve my state and my country.”
After joining the National Guard, Makayla was sent to basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, an experience that not only helped her grow as a soldier but as an individual.
“In high school, I was just very closed-minded about a lot of stuff, but then when I joined and went to basic training there was a lot of diversity, and with that diversity, I had to learn to become more open-minded,” said Makayla.
From Fort Jackson, she was sent to Fort Lee in Virginia, for what she calls AIT, Advanced Individual Training.
“It was training for my job, which is supply logistics,” said Makayla. “I keep inventory for the unit. I am in the FSC, which is Forward Support Company, and we support combat engineers.”
Upon arriving home in 2018, Makayla enrolled in her first class at Robeson Community College. She started out taking just one eight-week class in March 2018 but took more classes in the following semesters.
When Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina in September that year, being in the National Guard, Mikayla was deployed to assist in recovery efforts and had to leave at a moment’s notice.
“When I had to leave because we had a flood… my teachers were very understanding of that,” said Mikayla.
Little did Makayla know at the time, that in a few more months, she would be deployed again. This time to the Middle East.
Although Makayla’s unit is stationed in Raeford, in 2019 she was involuntarily pulled to serve with the 30th Brigade, a unit based out of High Point, for a deployment to Kuwait.
“When I found out I was getting deployed, I had to miss two weeks of class, because of training at Fort Bragg,” said Makayla. “The instructors were very understandable in letting me make up my assignments and they helped me out tremendously.”
While in Kuwait, Makayla decided to not take any classes because she was unsure of what her schedule would be like and she didn’t know what to expect. She was there to support field artillery for what was supposed to just be a maintenance deployment, but that quickly changed.
“There was a small conflict at the beginning of 2020 when a base in Iraq got bombed, it was only twenty miles from the base where I was staying,” said Makayla. “They put the whole base on lockdown when that happened, we walked around in full gear and we drew our weapons.”
The high alert only lasted about a week, but it was an experience Makayla says she will never forget.
Then-President, Donald J. Trump, ordered the 82nd Airborne Division to deploy to Kuwait after the bombing occurred, which helped to de-escalate the situation.
“They were sent to stay at the base where I was at,” said Makayla.
There were times during the deployment when Makayla says she got homesick and missed her family in Lumberton.
“Just getting a letter always made it better. I had a big support system, I knew my church was always praying for me, and that I was not in it alone,” said Makayla.
After being deployed for almost 365 days, Makayla was finally able to come back to the United States, flying into an airport in Maryland.
“I finally got to go to Dunkin’ Donuts for the first time in a year, at an airport,” laughed Makayla.
But in the twelve months that Makayla was gone, much of the world as she knew it had changed with shut-downs due to the pandemic. As a precaution, Makayla and her fellow soldiers had to quarantine at Fort Bliss before she could come back home to North Carolina in October 2020.
In January 2021, Makayla found herself back at Robeson Community College and immediately began hitting the books in pursuit of an Associate of Arts degree, with hopes of one day transferring to the University of Pembroke.
“Whenever it came to me being in North Carolina and having to leave at a moment’s notice, my teachers were very understanding after giving them copies of my orders. They worked with me and gave me ample time to complete the assignments.”
“I just feel like they really wanted to see me succeed, like they understood and supported me.”
Makayla says that choosing a college that is supportive is something all active-duty military members and veterans should look for when considering a school to attend.
“Education is the one thing people cannot take from you,” said Makayla. “The military will work with you and get you the resources you need, as far as education goes. Always pick a school willing to work with you and your military schedule. Pick a school that is military-friendly and who supports military and veterans.”
Makayla adds, “RCC is military-friendly, they have always been supportive of me.”
In April, Robeson Community College will be hosting a grand opening celebration of the Military-Affiliated Resource Center, something that Makayla says she can’t wait to see.
“I love it, it’s going to be one of the best things this college has done because it makes you more comfortable in choosing this school because you know there are resources and support available and that there are people you can relate to,” said Makayla. “I plan on going there and I’m going to make a donation just to show support for it.”
Makayla says that only 1% of the population goes into the military in the United States. It’s a calling that only a select few are willing to accept.
“I am glad that I have taken the road less traveled, I have pushed forward, my soldiers look up to me because now I am a leader. I would not be the person that I am today without the military training and the discipline I have received.”
No matter what the future holds for Makayla, she says she is ready, prepared, and most of all proud to serve her country, saying, “if the Army needs me for anything, I’ll go.”
After college, Makayla hopes to join the Active Guard Reserves and possibly work for the federal government doing contract work for Fort Bragg, a place she says feels like a lot like home.
Makayla would like to thank her parents, Ricky and Lisa Hunt, not only for their support shown during deployments but for also supporting her decision to join the military. She also thanks the late Raymond Cummings, who served in the Army Reserves as a Captain and on the Board of Trustees at RCC. Makayla says Cummings was an inspiration to her and always encouraged her by telling her she would go far in life.