Bob and Jesse Hinsley first met in high school when he was at Pennfield and she was at Battle Creek Central. (Courtesy)
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BATTLE CREEK, MICH. — In the middle of it all, with the bullets whizzing and the bombs exploding and the situation deteriorating, Bob Hinsley returned a text message.
From his wife.
“I didn’t know where he was and I sent him a text message because I was worried,” Jesse Hinsley told the Battle Creek Enquirer. “I saw something on the news and I was worried. Stupid me, I shouldn’t be watching the news but I texted him and asked ‘Can you call me?’ “
Hinsley, a U.S. Army Green Beret, happened to be deep in a firefight in a rebellious Afghan province facing an enemy force twice his unit’s size.
But, being the dutiful and considerate husband, he returned the text. And his response? “He said he was busy,” Jesse said with an ironic laugh.
Perhaps that best tells the story of Bob Hinsley, a Special Forces warrant officer and Pennfield High graduate who came to the military relatively late in life, but has flourished.
For Hinsley that fight in March 2013, which earned him a Silver Star for valor, was just part of the job.
“I’ve been in a lot of fights,” said the 36-year-old Hinsley, who was preparing for yet another tour to the region last week. “When you’re a young guy, the world’s moving at a hundred miles an hour. But I’ve been in a few, so it’s not overwhelming. I don’t have time to think about myself; I think about the guys to my right and left.”
This is not the way math teachers generally talk and after his graduation from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, that was the original plan.
Unlike many who join because of a lifelong love of the military or to follow in a parent’s footsteps, Hinsley had no interest in joining the armed forces coming out of high school.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “I never saw myself as a military person. I didn’t like being told what to do. I didn’t take orders.”
Hinsley was going to marry Jesse, a Battle Creek Central grad, whom he met when they both worked at the old Felpausch grocery store in Pennfield when they were 17. They would both be teachers and they would live their lives of quiet conformity.
Until the Twin Towers collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001.
A sense of duty, coupled with a difficult economy, had Hinsley rethinking his future.
“He said he wanted make something more of his life,” Jesse said. “And when he puts a goal out there, he goes all the way.”
Joining the Army took his parents Bob (who owns Hinsley Plumbing in Pennfield) and Frances by surprise.
“He was very meticulous growing up,” his mom said. “He couldn’t have any dirt on his clothes.”
But all that changed and Hinsley joined the Army in 2004, three years after graduating from college.
“I felt like I needed to do something,” he said. “That’s when Iraq kicked in and Afghanistan was coming on. So I enlisted and whatever was going to get me into combat, that’s what I was going to do.”
His first tour in Iraq came in January 2005 and when he returned, he re-enlisted and decided he wanted to join the Green Berets.
“I understood what they were doing and I said, ‘I can do that,’” he said.
Since then, Hinsley has been on four combat tours and three site assessments in Afghanistan. He is due to leave for Afghanistan again within the week.
But he still remembers the last tour, when he wasn’t entirely sure the luck he’d had for so long would continue.
He was part of a combined operation with Afghan forces in southern Afghanistan, reportedly an enemy stronghold where weapons, drugs and improvised explosive device components were openly sold and used.
Hinsley termed it a “routine” patrol even though he added, “We knew it was a bad guy stronghold. We’d gotten reports they openly carried weapons. They taunted officials. They needed security there.”
He led his 15-man unit into the area and they soon realized it was a trap. Soon after, everything broke loose.
“They let us have it,” he said. “And pretty soon we were surrounded on three sides.”
During the battle, Hinsley repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire so members of his unit could get to safety as well as to get water and ammunition.
Later on, he saw the enemy reinforcing itself and Hinsley again went out on his own to retrieve a rocket launcher.
“We wanted to try and stem the tide,” he said.
Eventually, they slipped out in trucks and U.S. jets provided cover. But Hinsley manned the last truck, turning it around and providing suppressing fire so his unit could get away.
“The fight never stopped, even when we were out of ammo,” he said. “The enemy never stopped the entire day. They seemed to have unlimited ammo.”
Hinsley said estimates were that 100 enemy soldiers, some consisting of the Taliban, were killed. One man in his unit suffered a leg injury.
He returned last May and in March, he received the Silver Star.
He acknowledges he’s been lucky but he also believes he’s only done what anyone else in his position would’ve done.
“Maybe it’s because he’s been over there so much,” Frances said. “After a while, you get nonchalant or else it eats you up. Unfortunately in his past tours, he’s seen a lot of bad stuff and I’ve heard bits and pieces and I don’t want to hear it. Being a nurse, I have a great imagination about the injuries those guys can go through.”
Bob, Jesse and their kids Gabriel, 12; Eloise, 9 and Adeline, 3, are stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., and they all hope this deployment may be his last.
“He’s getting up to that rank where he’d be eligible for a desk job,” said Jesse, who has been married to Bob for 13 years. “But I’m not sure he’d be good at that. He’s not one with idle hands.”
But even Hinsley admits he’s looking to the future.
“I think every soldier hopes this is your last trip,” said Hinsley, who has an undergraduate degree in economics and political science and has begun his masters work in international studies. “But I’ve had no regrets. It’s all come down to supporting my family. It’s hard on my family being away so much and I wish I was home with my kids more. But hopefully I can retire uninjured, buy a shack on the beach, put my feet in the sand and watch my kids and grandkids.”