While Hunter Freeman’s call to service was homegrown, courtesy of his father who served in the Army National Guard for 35 years, it was a fun-filled day spent with friends that first grabbed his attention on what exactly a Marine was.
“I was hanging out with my friends and we went out paint-balling,” Freeman said. “We came home and the movie, 'Full Metal Jacket,' was on.
“I always knew about the Army because of my dad but that was the first time I really thought about what it would be like to be a part of the Marine Corps.”
Before the call to action, Freeman, for the most part on his account, was a regular guy. Yet, all throughout his childhood he knew what his future would entail.
Born and raised in Montgomery, Freeman answered his call to the Marine Corps straight out of high school with his parents' approval. Enlisting in the delayed-entry program in 2002, Freeman was shipped off to Parris Island, South Carolina 10 days after graduating, effectively leaving behind life in his close-knit community as he knew it.
"With the delayed-entry program, I was able to take time and actually decide what job best fit me within the Marine Corps,” Freeman said. "It helped me choose what was best for me and gave me more than enough time to get adjusted to the program.
As a reservist, Freeman served the majority of his duty with Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, which is based out of his hometown of Montgomery. Freeman also had the honor of serving a tour overseas in Iraq in 2008 as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and in 2009 as part of a small humanitarian mission to Africa with Operation Shared Accord.
During his mission to Iraq, Freeman was able to fully grasp why his role as a Marine was so important to the larger picture of patriotism and what it means to serve your country.
“During my time in Iraq, a squad mate and myself had the opportunity to work security for an extraction mission,” Freeman said. “During this mission, our objective was to safely extract and transport a young Iraqi girl to transport where she would be flying to the United States for heart surgery.
“They were able to arrange that she was treated in the States and be handed back to her family. I don’t think at the time we actually knew that this surgery would save her life.”
That one mission changed Freeman’s entire perspective on what his role truly meant to not only his country, but to the countless lives and individuals who cross paths with Marines like himself on tour.
“That was a big deal for me,” Freeman said. “It helped me realize that you are a part of something so much bigger.
“It separates you for a moment and you get to see things clearly that what you do is extremely important.”
Freeman and many other Marines around the world raised their cups Tuesday to celebrate the Marine Corps' 245th birthday.
"We learn about our history at boot camp, and it kind of becomes ingrained in us. It's part of who we are," he said. "It's a symbolic and celebratory period for us to come together and to celebrate the beginning of what we were working on.
"My fondest memory of the Marine Corps birthday was in Iraq, and we cut the cake with a Ka-bar, and we each got two beers apiece, and we were hammered off of two beers. It was great."
After exiting the Marine Corps in 2013, Freeman, who graduated from Auburn University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s in Accountancy and a Master’s in Business Administration in 2012, now works as an accountant in Auburn.
Preparing himself for marriage to his fiancé in July of 2021, Freeman still sees himself as that regular guy — the same guy who took the step to enlist and serve others back in 2002.
“(There are) plenty of times in life that you go back and reflect on things in life and I think I was just a regular guy who was a part of something bigger than myself,” Freeman said. “There are some people who like to be flashy about it and that’s fine.
“I’d rather someone say “That’s Hunter, he’s just a good dude.' ”