Honoring sacrifice: Widow starts company to carry on Marine’s legacy

Being involved in rodeo from a young age and finding a lot of success, Hunter “H.D.” Hogan had four full-ride scholarship offers to continue with the sport in college.

But something in his heart drew him to serve his country.

After graduating from Brownstown Central High School in 2009, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, following in the footsteps of his father, Steve Hogan.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

While attending boot camp in California, he wound up meeting a girl named Brittney, and they were married two months later.

A year later, the couple were planning to have their first child, and Hunter was deployed to Afghanistan.

The morning after he deployed, Brittney woke up experiencing terrible pain, and her sister rushed her to a hospital. She wound up having a miscarriage and had to share the news with Hunter.

“I remember him calling me from Germany, and I was crying, and when I told him, it just crushed him,” Brittney said. “He would have been the best father, and he knew it. He was so excited to become one. We just kept telling each other that we would just try again when he got home.”

Five months later, on June 23, 2012, Brittney received more devastating news — Hunter was killed in action in Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He was 21.

“I can’t even describe the feeling of finding out,” Brittney said. “It was like my heart had been ripped out. There was this undeniable void, and no matter how much I tried not to think about it, it was still there. I completely lost my mind, and everyone saw it. I was tragic. That’s the best way to describe it.”

Four days before Hunter was killed, Steve said Hunter had told him the mission was going to be a bad one. Hunter’s team leader was killed the night before.

That was supposed to be Hunter’s last mission, and he just had a few weeks left to go in Afghanistan and three more months of active duty.

Steve said he had been looking for a home for Hunter and Brittney, and Hunter planned on working for his father and getting back into rodeo.

In his honor

The night Hunter’s body arrived in the United States, Steve said they decided, in lieu of flowers, to encourage people to give money toward a new rodeo scholarship in Hunter’s name.Now, 3½ years later, they have given away $24,000 in scholarships to seniors on their state’s high school rodeo team who are going to be on a college rodeo team. H.D. Hogan Memorial Scholarship Fund events are conducted each year to raise money for the scholarships.

“It has been a good way to turn a negative into a positive,” Steve said. “As much traveling as he did and knowing people all over the country, it has just been awesome the involvement that we get from the military community as well as the rodeo community. It has definitely kept his spirit alive.”

Brittney also started a fitness apparel company, Virago Fitness, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the scholarship fund and the USO.

Brittney said it wasn’t until Hunter was gone that she learned how rodeo was an integral part of his life. She said he didn’t talk too much about it.

“Along with strong influence from his family, I think rodeo is what made Hunter so strong,” she said. “It definitely builds character. From an extremely young age, Hunter experienced failure every time he was bucked off of a bull and perseverance and determination every time he got back on. That is such an important lesson to learn that can be used every day for the rest of one’s life. Any time life knocked him off, he got right back on.”

While he was good at rodeo and loved it, Brittney said he loved his country more.

The day after Hunter’s death, they took a plane to Dover, Delaware, to receive his body, and the USO helped them with anything they needed.

“They guided us through the airport, sometimes on a golf cart, and we didn’t have to think about a thing. We were all so distraught, we wouldn’t have known where to go or where to be if it wasn’t for them,” she said. “They are simply amazing.”

Steve, a 1981 Seymour High School graduate, said Hunter started with rodeo when he was 4 or 5 and continued with it through high school, including making the Indiana high school rodeo team.

First impression

Once Hunter decided to enter the military, he headed off to boot camp. He tore his ACL and wound up in medical hold for a year and a half at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.Brittney’s stepfather, Joe, aka “Gunny,” was Hunter’s gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps and was in charge of the medical platoon. At the time, Brittney was living in Los Angeles and was an aspiring wedding coordinator, and her mother and stepfather catered weddings on the side.

They had a wedding to do in Walnut, California, and invited Brittney to help them. Two Marines from the medical platoon also were asked to help, but one of them couldn’t do it and asked Hunter to help in his place.

That’s when he met Brittney.

“I thought he was adorable the second I shook his hand. He was very quiet and had a southern accent,” she said. “The wedding ended up being a huge disaster. The people were terrible, so we just ended up eating the food we cooked for the wedding and talking all night on the back of Gunny’s tailgate. The rest was history.”

She moved to San Diego two weeks later, and they got married two months later. They were both 20 at the time.

Military life

Having not grown up around anyone in the military, Brittney said she had no idea what it really meant to be patriotic, and Hunter “showed me a love for my country that I had never known.”“He was so passionate about being a Marine,” she said. “It was all he ever wanted. He was so determined and driven, as was I in my career, so I completely understood him and admired him for it. However, it was different. Hunter wasn’t a Marine to have a career or find his way in life. He legitimately wanted to serve his country.”

Brittney said Hunter scored very high on his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, but he insisted on becoming infantry and felt he could do more on the front lines.

Even when Hunter was close to being medically discharged, which would have resulted in him being financially covered for life, Brittney said he chose to stay in and fulfill his duty.

But after going through the miscarriage and Hunter’s death, Brittney said she went on “a path of self-destruction.”

“The best way to describe it is I couldn’t remember anything before meeting Hunter,” she said. “I drank a lot to numb the pain and get me through the paperwork and the funeral decisions and interactions with people. I was so anxious. One day, you have this plan of how your life is going to be in the next month, year, five years, and in an instant, it all disappears. It’s a scary feeling.”

Moving forward

Fortunately, her friends and family helped her through the tough times.In early 2014, she started running with her cousin. She said she had never liked running, but she was “completely lost” and needed something to calm her down and help with anxiety.

“I didn’t like the person I had become, especially the fact that I was drinking all of the time,” she said. “No one judged me for it. Everyone understood and said that they would probably do the same if they were in my boat, but I was disappointed in myself and knew Hunter would be, too, so that’s when I decided to try fitness.”

After the first run, she said she felt noticeably better. The length of her runs kept increasing, and she wound up running a 5K, a 15K and a half-marathon.

Running gave her time to think, she said.

“All of the things I tried to not think about over the last year to two years, I could now think about with a clear head,” she said. “I realized that chasing my problems away with alcohol only made them worse and that I had to reflect on everything that had happened to move on and heal.”

She then tried different types of workouts, including yoga, boot camp, karate body fitness, Pilates and barre, to stay moving every day.

Living her dream

That inspired her to start Virago Fitness, and she was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning her own business.Growing up living in different places and attending various schools, Brittney decided to earn her general education diploma and go straight to work when she was 16.

She started a women’s magazine with her mom when she was 17, started her own marketing firm at 19 and began coordinating weddings at 20.

She got away from coordinating weddings after Hunter died, but later when she got into fitness, she was able to turn the newfound passion into a career.

In May, she will earn a bachelor’s degree in business with a focus on small business and entrepreneurship from the University of Phoenix.

“I think everyone goes through hard times in their life because it serves a greater purpose,” she said. “Mine is to tell my story in hopes that it will inspire others to learn from tragic events or hardships of any kind and overcome them.”

Brittney runs the company by herself, selling online straight to the customer. The clothing is produced at a wholesale manufacturing facility in Los Angeles.

Looking ahead

Her five-year plan involves opening an apparel factory. She said she would start off small and hire military veterans and their families.“It is ambitious, but I think we can do it,” she said. “It all depends on the type of exposure we can create this year and how many consumers we can get behind our initiative.”

Brittney said it means a lot to her to support the scholarship fund and the USO with her company, and Steve said he appreciates Brittney doing that.

“She has done this on her own,” Steve said. “She has done a fantastic job. I can’t be more proud of the girl.”

They have been able to give out five to seven $1,000 scholarships a year. Applicants write an essay explaining what rodeo and being an American means to them, and Steve and Brittney pick the winners.

“This year, the stack (of applications) was 2½ feet high. It’s unbelievable,” Steve said. “We get them from the state of Florida to Washington.”

As a nonprofit organization, the H.D. Hogan Memorial Rodeo Scholarship Fund also conducts an annual rifle raffle, bull rides, a golf scramble and other events to raise money.

Steve said he receives a lot of calls from people wanting to do fundraising events to benefit the scholarship fund.

“If it’s somebody I trust and represents the scholarship fund properly, yeah, I’m all for it,” he said.

The response has been humbling to him and Brittney.

“We had no clue that this was going to turn out to be so big, and by the end of the year, God knows where he scholarship fund might be,” he said.

They also are working on ways to give back to veterans and military groups.

“We’ve got some good ideas and a couple of good groups that we’re looking at doing something with,” Steve said. “Again, it’s going to have to be something that we’re very comfortable with.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”On the Web” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

H.D. Hogan Memorial Scholarship Fund: circlehdrodeo.org or facebook.com/circlehdrodeo

Virago Fitness: virago-fitness.com or facebook.com/viragofitness