Having served for nearly two decades as a member of the National Guard, including doing a tour in Belgium and another in Iraq, Dustin Hunter believes his experiences have prepared him for his new role as the veterans service officer (VSO) in Redwood County.
Hunter officially began his new duties July 16.
For the past several years, Hunter has served in an administrative role in the National Guard, and most recently he has been working out of the armory in Redwood Falls.
“I have been deployed as a member of the National Guard two times,” said Hunter. It was in 2003-04 when he served in Belgium as part of a security force. In 2005 his unit was called to Iraq, and Hunter served there as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
They spent 22 months in Iraq – the longest deployment of a National Guard unit in recent history.
In Iraq, Hunter worked at a convoy support center, which he said basically was a gas station providing refueling for vehicles.
Also, as part of his role he was able to interact with some of the locals working to develop their trust.
“They were our best eyes and ears over there,” Hunter said.
Hunter, who grew up in Windom, said he joined the National Guard as a way to see more of the world than the small town setting he had thus far experienced.
“Serving in the military was something no one else in my immediate family had ever done,” said Hunter, adding he did have a couple of uncles who were in the Marine Corps.
Having graduated from high school in 2000, Hunter began training in fabrication and was working in Jackson.
After being deployed, Hunter was offered a full-time position with the National Guard, initially he was stationed in New Ulm.
He came to Redwood Falls to fill the administrative position when Lee Simmons retired.
Currently, Hunter is a Platoon Sergeant First Class in the National Guard.
Hunter said in many ways he sees his new role as VSO is similar to the kinds of things he was doing full time in the National Guard.
A lot of his tasks focused on helping other Guard members, as well as veterans, to receive the benefits they have earned.
While he enjoyed the job he was doing, Hunter said he started looking to the future and recognized there was always a chance as things changed in the National Guard that he might not be retained.
“I did not want to take that chance,” Hunter said.
Hunter, who has attended a number of training opportunities, said his biggest role is assisting veterans with claims the may have and making sure they have all of the proper documentation and information to receive the benefits they have earned.
Those benefits can be health related, or they can be in the form of educational opportunities as well as others.
“I have learned a lot already,” said Hunter, adding he sees how steep the learning curve in his new role is going to be.
Hunter has been able to meet with subject matter experts as part of the training he has received, adding just making contact with people like that is going to help him better serve the veterans of Redwood County.
Hunter knows a key part of his role is developing relationships with veterans, and he encouraged all of them to stop by his office in the Redwood County government center in Redwood Falls just to see what they might be missing out on in terms of benefits.
“There are so many untapped resources available to them,” he said. “I just want to help.”
Hunter said things have been going well so far, and he is looking forward to the chance to meet more of the veterans who call Redwood County home.
Hunter and his wife, Amanda, have five children.