NHRA Top Fueler Hillary Will makes memorable journey to Afghanistan and beyond YPSILANTI, Mich., (March 31, 2008) -- Hillary Will is tough. She makes her living driving the quickest and fastest auto racing machines on the planet. She regularly...
NHRA Top Fueler Hillary Will makes memorable journey to Afghanistan and beyond
YPSILANTI, Mich., (March 31, 2008) -- Hillary Will is tough. She makes her living driving the quickest and fastest auto racing machines on the planet. She regularly drives her 8,000-horsepower KB racing, LLC Top Fuel dragster at speeds in excess of 330 mph down the quarter-mile drag strips of the United States in the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. The 27-year old native of Fortuna, Calif., and fastest female in the history of the sport, 334.65 mph, is already one of the stars of the world's largest straight-racing organization with most of her racing career ahead of her. Drag racing is not only her livelihood; it's her life's passion. Last month Will took off for a goodwill tour to visit U.S. military troops defending the land of the free and the home of the brave overseas and returned to her native soil with a new found outlook on life and a new perspective of freedom and vulnerability.
Will spent 10 days in Afghanistan visiting Bagram Air Base, FOB (Forward Operating Base) Sharana, FOB Jalalabad, and FOB Salerno. She also toured Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar. Will shared her unforgettable experience with NASCAR stars Randy LaJoie, Ricky Craven, and Jeff Fuller as a racing-themed tour with the Pro Sports MVP Company.
"It was an amazing experience," Will, a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., said. "I got to drive a Hummer Humvee that is actually used in combat, I learned how to shoot M-14 rifles, and I got to see a good portion of Afghanistan from the air. However, all that fades in comparison to meeting and interacting with our brave men and women living and fighting the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. What I will remember most are the people that I met and the stories that I heard."
Sleepless and Scared
Will had dozens of good, and not-so-good, experiences during her stay in harm's way. Here is her harrowing account of the day that led into what she has described as "the longest night of her life."
"We had one day where I was actually scared for my life. The details are still very vague but the dining facility at a base a few miles away from us was blown up by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). We found out about it when two casualties and a bunch of wounded soldiers were brought to where we were. We all had to arm ourselves with our protective army gear and go in lockdown. As civilians, we were given very little information so it was difficult to judge the threat of our situation. A good clue to the severity of it was that the military personnel near us were wide-eyed, pale-faced, and sweating, which didn't give me an easy feeling. I had never been that close to an attack, and I have never been that close to people involved in one. We couldn't make any contact with the outside world. It was a really helpless feeling. We had no idea what was really happening. I have never felt further from home. I feared that we were going to get hit with a follow-up attack.
"Trying to go to sleep after that was futile. I slept in my Kevlar vest. At one point I thought the whole building was shaking, but it was really just the pounding of my own heart. We had to fly out as soon as morning came. I know there are many people all over the world that sleep in that kind of fear all the time. It really made me realize how fortunate we are just to be able to sleep at night in peace without being fearful for ours lives."
Not all of Will's experiences were wrought with potential peril. Her favorite moments of her life-changing trip were during her last day in Afghanistan. "We had a Q & A at Bagram Air Base on the last day. We even promoted it on an Armed Forces Network radio show. We had a great crowd and everyone seemed to be really interested in what we had to say. I think I even turned a few of them into drag racing fans, which is always my goal. We stayed until we signed autographs for every person there."
Reflection and Perspective
Now, that she has been back home in the U.S. for a few weeks, Will has had time to reflect on her experiences and adjust her priorities. "When I first got back home, I was really happy just to be back on familiar ground. The only thing I could think about was getting a good night's sleep in my own bed, but after I was able to get rested up, the realization of what I experienced began to sink in and still does.
"The whole experience of being in a war zone really changed the way I think about things. Some of the things I used to worry about don't matter as much to me anymore. I've vowed to enjoy life a lot more since people are risking their lives and fighting for my freedom and protection.
"I heard a poignant quote on the flight back from someone on the plane. He said, 'I never realized how much I liked being home until I've been somewhere really different for awhile.' I didn't think much about it at the time, but I think about that statement a lot now, and it reminds me to be very grateful for what I have as a drag racer and, most importantly, as an American."