Brig. Gen. Terence J. Hildner of Fairfax dies in Afghanistan of apparent natural causes

A one-star U.S. Army general from Fairfax County was found dead in his Kabul sleeping quarters Friday, and Defense Department officials said he is the highest-ranking officer to die during the war in Afghanistan.

An investigation is pending into Brig. Gen. Terence J. Hildner’s cause of death, but the 49-year old father of four died of apparent natural causes, not in combat, said Christopher Haug, chief of media relations at Fort Hood in Texas, where Hildner was based.

His father, Robert Hildner, a retired Air Force colonel in Port Tobacco, Md., said it was likely his son had a heart attack. Robert Hildner said his son was found sitting in a chair where he appeared to have been playing a video game the night before.

“That was one of the ways he used to burn off the stress of the day,” Robert Hildner said. “It’s too bad. He was very much a rising star in the military.”

Hildner deployed to Afghanistan in December to assist the NATO training mission. He managed and distributed all the military supplies in the area — from clothing to ammunition to medical equipment. Hilder was the commander of the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command at Fort Hood.

The U.S. Army says Brigadier General Terence J. Hildner, 49, died of apparent natural causes Feb. 3 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Courtesy U.S. Army)

As of last month, 1,850 American service members had died in Afghanistan since 2001, according to military records. About 375 of those deaths have been classified as “non-hostile,” which includes deaths from accidents and natural causes.

Growing up in a military family, Hildner moved frequently. He was born in New Haven, Conn., and lived in Tokyo, Rome and Colorado as well as Chantilly, where he attended Brookfield Elementary School. Hildner graduated from Autauga County High School in Prattville, Ala., in 1980, and he joined the University of Notre Dame’s class of 1984. He began his Army career in Fort Bliss, Tex.

His father described him as an ambitious and dedicated military man.

“From the Irish side of the family, he inherited a sense of humor and exuberance about life,” Robert Hildner said. “And from the German side, a singularity of purpose and a very keen analytical mind.”

Hildner was married twice and had four children, ages 17 to 22, from his first marriage. His second wife, Cindy Hildner, is a civilian employee for the military. He met her about seven years ago after she began monitoring the condition of one of his injured soldiers at what is now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Fairfax was what Hildner considered his home base, even as he moved from place to place in a nearly 30-year military career that included tours in Germany, Iraq and Kuwait. His parents lived in Fairfax near George Mason University from 1980 until last year, when they moved to Charles County. He also is survived by his mother, Susan, and a younger brother and sister, Steven Hildner and Elizabeth Edwards, both of whom live in the Washington area.

Hildner commanded troops in Kuwait and during the Persian Gulf War in Iraq. He also conducted the last U.S. patrol along the East-West German border before reunification. His combat missions earned him various service medals, including two Bronze Stars.

From 2003 to 2006, he was in charge of the 13th Corps Support Command’s Special Troops Battalion at Fort Hood. The battalion provided supplies to units stationed around Joint Base Balad and Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war, and to troops responding to Hurricane Katrina.

More recently, he was stationed at Fort Lee, Va., where he trained tens of thousands of soldiers for deployment.

“We are truly saddened by the loss of Brigadier General Hildner,” Lt. Gen. Don Campbell Jr., commanding general of III Corps and Fort Hood, said in a statement. “This is a tragic loss for the Army, III Corps and for our Central Texas community.”

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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