Ballinger has a strong tradition of dedication to the country. You can go to the Runnels County courthouse lawn and see the names of soldiers from the county who were killed in wars over the last 100+ years. You can drive along the six miles of Highway 158 named The Justin Byler Memorial Highway. Talk to Ballinger schoolteacher Chad McDuffee who served in the army and in Iraq at the same time as Byler and now has one prosthetic leg. Attend Veterans Day ceremonies at Ballinger High School and meet the scores of veterans from the Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Navy. Veterans who served in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom form a significant part of this county and Ballinger in particular. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 675 veterans in this county of 10,234 people, which comes to almost 7% of the population. Nationally, only 0.5% of the country are veterans.

The latest hero to join the military is 2019 Ballinger High School graduate and native son, Jayden Hostetter. He joined the army 2 months ago and just finished basic training. His service has an obvious impact on his mother, as her face lights up every time she speaks about him or looks at him during our interview.

On December 17th, fresh off his flight home from Ft. Jackson, South Carolina and wearing his army uniform, Hostetter and his family took in a Ballinger Bearcats basketball home game, “It’s neat being home again watching a basketball game the same way we used to.”

Before he proudly began wearing the army uniform, he wore a Ballinger Bearcats uniform, #74, on the football field. At Ballinger high school he was in athletics, which included power lifting. He was also in FFA and other clubs.

Mom beams as she speaks about Hostetter and how proud she is of him. Each time she looks at her son her face brightens up. Hostetter stands an easy 6’2” and has all the manners and politeness of most people raised out here in the Agriplex. His birthday was the following day, December 18th.

For Hostetter, the hardest part of army basic training wasn’t the physical part, “The hardest thing was not being in contact with my family a lot of the time.” While he can relax while he’s home for the holidays, in a couple of weeks it’s off to more training, “I’m going to be an intelligence analyst. I have to go for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft. Huachuca in Arizona for 16 weeks. Then I’ll find out what duty station they’re sending me to. They say it will probably be either Alaska or Germany.”

Hostetter says that he joined the army because he was looking for his purpose in life, “I thought that the military would be a good start. I liked the army and I got to pick my job.” Mom says that she gave him 2 options after high school, “I told him that he was either going to college or going to the military. He chose the military. There are no words to express the emotion and pride that I have in him.” She never gets more than 12” from Hostetter as we stand talking in the hallway outside of the gym with the sounds of the basketball game echoing in the background. Her joy is clearly evident and gives off a positive energy that anyone within several feet can feel. Friends come up to him and congratulate him from time to time.

Hostetter’s face shows pride, as he stands tall in his uniform, thanking and visiting with each person who stops to talk.

Before his journey to South Carolina, Hostetter had never been out of Texas, “The only time I’d been out of Texas was in March of this year, when my family went to Las Vegas for spring break.”

Hostetter says that the biggest surprise he had was the teamwork in his basic training company, “It was amazing how different people from all around the country could get along and how, by the end of training, we could work as a team.” Hostetter says that his biggest challenge were the “rucks.” That’s a rucksack march and the ones Hostetter and his fellow trainees conquered ranged from 8 miles to 14 miles, “The 8-mile one took us about 3 hours. The 14-mile took about 4 to 5 hours. The last ruck was when we were in the field for our 3-day Forge. We spent 3 days out there and you don’t get tents, you just get tarps. And you learn how to forage for food.” According Ft. Jackson’s public relations, The Forge is 96 hours and the soldiers must complete 44 tasks and battle drills.

Hostetter’s 6’2” frame used to support about 260 lbs. Now it supports a 220 lbs soldier who looks like at any moment he could walk out the front door and march 20 miles or run a marathon. Rosser says that he spent the summer dropping his weight and that the army training helped him in several areas, “The army made me stronger. It helped me be more disciplined. Now I can follow orders pretty easily. As long as you’re in the right place, at the right time, in the right uniform, you’re going to be fine. That’s what I was taught was the key to success.” Rosser has also noticed a difference, “He walks taller, he has more confidence and he takes pride in what he’s doing. He really enjoys the career path that he’s chosen and is looking forward to the future.”

Hostetter’s basic training unit was the first to take the army’s new fitness test. For decades the army’s physical fitness test (APFT) was pushups, sit-ups and a 2-mile run. Now the fitness test is called the ACFT, Army Combat Fitness Test. The new test wasn’t a problem for athlete-turned-soldier Hostetter, “For physical training, the only time we really did it was in the mornings. It wasn’t that intensive. They just switched to the ACFT. It includes a 3-repetition max deadlift, a standing power through with a medicine ball, hand-release-pushup-arm-extension, sprint-drag-carry, leg tuck and 2-mile run.” His favorite part of basic training was qualifying with the M-4 rifle, “Practice was boring but qualifying was fun. I made sharpshooter. If I’d hit one more target I’d have made expert.”

One aspect of the army that Hostetter learned to appreciate was food at the DFAC (dining facility), “When you first get there, you think that the food at the DFAC is terrible. But then you’re out training and you get MREs and Hot A’s (hot rations) so when you get back to the DFAC, you think the chow tastes great.”

With years of military service in his future, Hostetter already has a firm grasp on his goals and a determination to achieve success. He makes a worthy addition to that group of men and women who put their lives on the line every day for our freedoms. We wish the Bearcats soldier success on this new journey in his life and have no doubt he will continue to make his mother, his family and his community proud.