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Wife finds Air Force Reserve career after husband's death

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ashley Conner
  • 477th Fighter Group Public Affairs
During a family hike on Mother's day 1999 Kanya Huling, her husband and three children heard what sounded like helicopters overhead but was actually the mountain shearing off in a landslide that would kill six people and injured more than 30.

"After the debris stopped falling I looked over and saw my husband, Scott, hunched over our 2-year old son, Ty, protecting him from all the falling debris. He looked up and said 'take the baby' but I couldn't because both of my hands were broken," said Kanya.

Bystanders would end up carrying Ty and the Hulings two older boys on the 60 minute hike out from the falls to helicopters waiting to fly them to the hospital for treatment.

"We had considered going on another hike but we figured Sacred Falls [on Hawaii's island of Oahu] would be an easier hike for our 2-year old," said Kanya. "When I woke up from surgery, my parents who had flown in from Utah and South Dakota were there. I was asking where Scott and our boys were. At that moment the chaplain came in, dressed in blues and then I knew what happened."

Kanya's husband Master Sgt. Scott Huling, a Security Forces 1st Sergeant who had been stationed at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii for two and a half years, had sustained traumatic internal injuries and died at the falls.

During the landslide most of hikers covered their heads to protect themselves from falling debris. Scott didn't do this because his arms were draped over their son Ty to protect him.

"It was too painful to stay in Hawaii without Scott," said Kanya. "My family and I moved to Hill AFB, Utah to be closer to my father. Scott had taken care of the bills and the house. I had to learn to take care of those things."

Kanya and her sons bought a house and went about rebuilding their life. Kanya spent two years volunteering at the Airmen's Attic before visiting an Air Force recruiter.

"I had contemplated a career in the Air Force before I met my husband but the timing didn't work out," said Kanya. "I was now a single mother so active duty wasn't an option so I found my way into the Air Force Reserve."

Kanya graduated from Basic Military Training in 2001 and joined the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah as an Information Manager for the Logistics Group.

"Scott died when he was 36 and his Air Force career was at a high. I saw what he did as a first sergeant, the respect and admiration that people had for him was inspirational to me. I wanted to continue what he couldn't anymore and the only way that I felt I could do that for him was to join the Air Force and make a difference in some way," she said.

She would spend nine years at Hill before moving to Alaska to join the 477th Fighter Group in 2007. She would end up meeting and marrying Senior Master Sgt. Garry Briner in 2005 and have another son in 2009.

"Who we are in life is determined by our past experiences. I would never wish for anyone to have to go through what Kanya and the boys did but I am truly blessed with an incredible family and life because of who Kanya is today," said Senior Master Sgt. Garry Briner, 477th Force Support Squadron superintendent. "I would want Scott to know the impact he made on Kanya, our boys and ultimately on me. And how incredibly proud of Kanya I am and in turn thank him for instilling and fostering that drive and desire within her."

Now as Information Manager for Alaska's only Reserve unit Master Sgt. Kanya Briner looks at life through a new lens.

"After Scott died I wanted to know how long I would grieve. I finally realized that everyone's time line is different," she said. "Now I am able to appreciate the small and big things in life and don't sweat the small things."