At Lewis-McChord, tears for the fallen

A vibrant smile was as much a part of Sgt. Faith Renee Hinkley's Army exterior as her camouflage uniform, camel-colored boots and rifle.

Fellow soldiers recalled her positive outlook, encouraging jokes and kind-hearted ways Tuesday during Hinkley’s memorial service at a Joint Base Lewis-McChord chapel.

The 23-year-old human intelligence collector was killed Aug. 7 after insurgents attacked her unit in Iskandariya, Iraq. She is the ninth Lewis-McChord soldier reported to have died in Iraq this year. Three of those nine were women.

Originally from Colorado Springs, Colo., Hinkley enlisted in 2007 and arrived at Lewis-McChord in August 2008. She was assigned to the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade and deployed last September.

“Faith was a collector, a warrior and a wonderful woman … Most importantly, Faith was a living definition of love,” Capt. Michael McCoy, her company commander in Iraq, wrote in a letter that was read during Tuesday’s service.

He wrote of her ever-present smile, confidence and ability to gather intelligence without being affected by “the dark side of the job.”

Hinkley helped forge partnerships with Iraqi Security Forces and improved information sharing at the Kalsu Intelligence Agency.

She was credited with uncovering two caches of homemade explosives and helping to identify and detain several insurgents in Iraq.

“If I ever saw a soldier that had integrity, it was Faith,” said Sgt. Brian Wilson, her former squad leader.

He was also struck by Hinkley’s bright smile, recalling the day he met her in April 2009. She was grinning widely, despite the fact that she’d been in a car accident the day before.

Hinkley was a model soldier and also a woman who loved to spend time with friends.

She and Spc. Sara Stamper, her best friend, set aside time to tan or get their hair done. They made a contest out of who drove the worst. The women sneaked out of bathroom windows to attend parties, giggling as they bolted from their drill sergeants.

The women met two years ago at Advanced Individual Training in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., and became inseparable. They were supposed to be roommates when Hinkley returned from Iraq.

“She always made a bad situation the best situation possible,” Stamper said as she dabbed at her tears. “She was the best of us.”

After the final roll call and a silence after Hinkley’s name was read, volleys were fired and taps were played.

Her family filed out of the two front pews and stood before a framed portrait of Hinkley set beside her boots, rifle, helmet and hanging dog tags.

They stood for several moments, their arms wrapped around each other for comfort. Then one by one, her family saluted Hinkley’s gear or blew a kiss at her picture.

“To this day, Faith, you are my hero,” Stamper said.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 stacia.glenn@thenewstribune.com