For the Daily Reporter
A 2011 Columbus East High School graduate who found a way of life he loved in the U.S. Army was one of two American soldiers killed during a suicide bombing attack on a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan.
The death of U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter, 23, during Wednesday’s bombing attack was confirmed by his father, Mark Hunter of Columbus, and his mother, Kimberly Thompson of Nashville, Indiana.
The attack that claimed the life of the former Columbus East student and football player occurred near the city of Kandahar, according to a Pentagon source interviewed by The Associated Press. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.
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Hunter was part of an international force referred to as the Train, Advise and Assist Command south, a reference to their location in the country, according to the The Associated Press.
Jonathon Hunter served with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
He was deployed to Afghanistan on July 1 of this year — his first deployment. It came about nine months after he married Whitney Michelle (Stewart) Hunter, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Oct. 15, 2016.
Jonathon Hunter’s role in Afghanistan was to provide security, his mother said.
Kimberly Thompson said the news of her son’s death has left her feeling numb.
“I’m very, very proud of who he has become and what he did for our country,” she said. “It’s a double-edged sword. I’m incredibly proud he served our country; it’s what he was called to do.”
Members of the Indiana National Guard informed the soldier’s parents Wednesday night.
“I was sitting out on the deck and I heard a knock. I saw the blue berets. … I opened the door, and I was asked if I was the mother of Sgt. Jonathon Hunter. I said, ‘Yes, and I know why you are here,’” Kimberly Thompson said.
His mother and other family members are working with the U.S. military on plans to have Hunter’s body flown from Dover (Delaware) Air Force Base to Columbus Municipal Airport, in anticipation of holding services in the Columbus area.
Joining the military wasn’t the first option for Jonathon Hunter after high school.
He attended Indiana State University in Terre Haute for three semesters. There, he accepted an Air Force ROTC scholarship because he didn’t want to burden his family with paying for college, his father said.
At various times Jonathon Hunter pursued music and criminal justice degrees. For a while, he had dreams of becoming a recording producer, Mark Hunter said.
When he gave up on that career pursuit, however, Jonathon returned to Columbus, his dad said.
And on April 8, 2014, Jonathon put off plans to immediately finish college and gave his full commitment to the U.S. Army, his mother said.
“Jonathon always did well with a strong discipline … He recognized the military could do that for him and keep him focused,” his mother said. “He knew he needed a little more focus and discipline in his life.”
Mark Hunter said his family has had a tradition of military service since the Civil War, and that his son joined the Army with plans to complete college after serving his country.
Jonathon Hunter found success serving in the Army.
He earned his Expert Infantryman Badge late last year and more recently had been promoted to sergeant, Kimberly Thompson said.
She said he was proud to serve as a mentor to the men under his command, but was humble about what he was doing.
“I would say, ‘What are you doing?’ He would say, ‘I’m just doing my job, protecting our country, protecting our freedom,’” his mother said.
Mark Hunter last saw his son when he came back home on leave in late June, he said. Although they saw each other daily, Jonathon Hunter spent much of his time back in Columbus visiting with several old friends, he said.
The last time Kimberly Thompson talked with her son was July 18, she said.
“He just said, ‘I’m doing good, Mom, I’m just on a security detail,’” the mother said.
When Mark Hunter last talked with his son Saturday, his son told him he was interested in getting trained to become an Army Ranger.
Although Jonathon Hunter assured his father all was quiet prior to another security detail, he said “he was ready to do some fighting,” Mark Hunter said.
The father was scheduled to leave early this morning to drive to Dover Air Force Base, which houses Mortuary Affairs Operations.
Services and memorials are expected to be later scheduled according to the wishes of Kimberly Thompson, he said.
While people will remember Jonathon Hunter’s service and sacrifice, he also was known or being a genuine person with a kind, warm soul, and dedicated to his family, his mother said.
“He had a contagious, infectious smile and laugh,” Kimberly Thompson said.
She added that he had a soft heart for people with special needs, too.
“He saw them as real people. He never saw color or social economic differences,” Kimberly Thompson said.
Who: Jonathon Michael Hunter
What: Sergeant in the U.S. Army
School: 2011 graduate of Columbus East High School. Played both running back and defensive end for the East football team.
Military service: Joined Army April 8, 2014; served with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborn Division stationed in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina
Family: Wife, Whitney Michelle Hunter; father, Mark Hunter; mother, Kimberly Thompson; stepfather, Brian Thompson; brother, Marcus Hunter; sisters Lindsey England, Kelsey Thompson; brother-in-law, Andy England; niece, Bailey England; nephew, Jordan Burton.