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From Death Race to Afghanistan

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1st Lt. Hilaire and Death Race Team with friend Taylor Morris (Source: 1st Lt. Sophie Hilaire) 1st Lt. Hilaire and Death Race Team with friend Taylor Morris (Source: 1st Lt. Sophie Hilaire)

She holds the world record for running a marathon in full combat gear.  She just survived 61 hours of the Spartan Death Race in Vermont.  Now 1st Lieutenant Sophie Hilaire faces one of the biggest challenges of her military career.

The West Point graduate is going to Afghanistan for her first deployment.

"I'm really excited," she said. "I volunteered.  I've been in the Army active duty for three years and I haven't deployed yet, and I don't feel alright with that.  I really want to go to Afghanistan. "

"This has been so much of my training in college. I took electives just to learn more about the culture over there," said Hilaire. "I really feel like I'd be missing out."

Hilaire will be working as a logistics officer for a Provincial Reconstruction Team, made up of about 100 people from all branches of the military. They will be working in eastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border.

"We'll all work together to restore our province," she said about the mission. "Anywhere from basic village infrastructure like working out contracts to lay down pipes, to humanitarian type effort, such as schools for women."

Hilaire hopes she will have the opportunity to work with Afghan women.

"I've heard that I'll be working on female engagement teams, so that definitely would mean that I'd be working with the civilian populace," she said.  "I'm pretty excited about the opportunity perhaps to go in there and work with women."

Along with reading books and online research, Hilaire has been asking her fellow soldiers who've been there for advice, including her boyfriend, who's still in Afghanistan.

"He's told me about how I need to carry myself as a woman over there," she said. "The way that you talk to people so that people don't misconstrue what you're trying to say, or not take you seriously."

Hilaire is aware of the dangers she faces in her mission.

"Keep your head down," was the advice of her commanding officer, Lt. Col. Mike Daniels.  "And don't trust anybody."

"I've had classmates who haven't come back," said Hilaire."I've had dear friends who have come back handicapped in some way.  It's hard.  You just kind of block it out and go do what you have to do.  It doesn't mean anyone's okay with it, or it's any less horrible, but what can you do?"

"There are definitely people doing way, way, way more dangerous jobs than me. I worry for them.  Some of them are really close friends."

On her way back to South Carolina from the Death Race in Vermont earlier this month, Hilaire stopped at several military hospitals in the Washington, D.C. area to visit some of her wounded friends.  Hilaire's Death Race team raised $7,250 for the Wounded Warrior Foundation.

 "It was very humbling to see them and talk to them about what they've been through," she said.  "It makes our efforts in raising money for them and doing the race in their honor all that much more important."

One friend, a naval officer, was blinded.  She said he is doing well and has qualified to compete in the Paralympic Games in London.  Another friend is one of only five people who have survived a quadruple-amputation.

Sophie won't be the only Hilaire in Afghanistan.  Her sister, who also graduated from West Point, deploys the same time she does.

"Actually, I might see her in Kuwait on the way over there," she said.  "That would be pretty funny."

But she will miss her brother graduate from West Point next May. It's a small sacrifice to help rebuild a nation destroyed by three generations of war.

"I hope everyone walks away with that feeling of success and they made a difference," said Hilaire. "People come back and say they have more of an appreciation for living in America and that the little things don't bother them as much anymore.  I'd like to have a better perspective and outlook on life, and I hope I can gain something positive like that."

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