TROY alumna Star Hy was planning to be in Kabul, Afghanistan for one year working on investigating visa fraud at the U.S. Embassy there.
Instead, the Diplomatic Security Service special agent found herself evacuating thousands of Americans, foreign allies and at-risk Afghans just two weeks after hitting the ground. She was the sole female U.S. law enforcement officer supporting the evacuation and humanitarian operation.
“As the word got out that the embassy was evacuating, people are thinking ‘this is my last chance to get out of the country’ – or some thought maybe it was their only chance,” Hy said. “A few hundred turned into a few thousand. It was never unmanageable, but it was challenging.”
An Army officer, Hy had volunteered to move to the State Department to become a DSS special agent in 2009. She had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and entered the military police and spent time in Guantanamo Bay training in the early 2000’s, transferred to State and went through the DSS seven-month training program that included standard law enforcement training, special tactics, leadership, and high-threat training.
“You learn weapons skills and even how to drive in dicey situations, but the culmination of the training is an embassy evacuation. The Foreign Affairs Security Training Center at Fort Barfoot has a mock embassy for training . . . and you learn what to do and how you would hold an embassy,” she said.
The State Department is one of several federal agencies that use the Virginia National Guard fort formerly known as Fort Pickett, located near Blackstone, VA.
That training paid off, as well as Hy’s previous training, when the order came to evacuate the Kabul embassy, which is essentially a city within a city – with multi-story buildings and internal roads. The team had less than 48 hours to accomplish the mission, under escalating hostilities from the Taliban.
“I had just gone through the one-month refresher course right before I got there, but I was not doing the typical security stuff – I was working with passports and immigration documents,” she said. “It was a very quick transition (back into security operations).”
While Hy fell back on her military and State Department training, the thing that emerged was that she was working with a team of DSS agents who had the same training. Although the agents hadn’t trained together, they shared the common knowledge of what needed to be done by whom and in what order.
“I was impressed with my colleagues and how we came together as a team and how well we executed the plan,” she said.
Evidently her actions impressed others, too. In 2022, she was awarded the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Julie Y. Cross Award, only the third DSS special agent to receive the honor. DSS Supervisory Agent Benjamin Sides nominated Hy for the award. He was the deputy regional security officer in Kabul at the time of the evacuation.
In the nomination, Sides praised Hy for her “heroism and exceptional courage, risking her life on the front lines of incredible danger amid an unpredictable security situation as the Taliban took over strategic locations throughout Kabul.”
Once Hy had evacuated embassy staff, destroyed sensitive and classified documents, computer equipment and armored vehicles to prevent them from falling into Taliban control, she helped move weapons and other sensitive materials to Hamid Karzai International Airport – also the Kabul military base.
Once at the airport, Hy “heroically provided security amid flash grenades, tear gas and machine gun fire while U.S. and Afghan military forces struggled to control volatile crowds at the gates,” the nomination continued.
She put her expertise in reviewing and verifying travel and identity documents to help process the thousands trying to flee the country and was on one of the last non-military planes out of Kabul. DSS agents shared security duties with the 82nd Airborne and U.S. Marines.
“What I learned when we got to the airport is the level of trust between State and the military,” she said. “I can trust their training. You have a lot of young soldiers and young commanders who haven’t worked with civilians before. They trusted us to let the right people in the gates,” Hy said.
“They 100 percent put that trust in us, and us with them,” she said.
Training was certainly key to Hy’s success and survival, but she credits her educational career as well.
Following her undergraduate degree, Hy said she was determined to earn a master’s degree, and she turned to TROY to do it.
“My first duty station was Fort Benning and I wanted to branch switch from MP to human resources on the Adjutant General staff. The Army had great tuition assistance and TROY taught night classes on post – and I knew I would be going to Korea where I could continue the classes online,” she said.
At the time, Hy said that degrees from many online education providers through the Army’s goArmyU program didn’t mean a lot.
“I knew TROY had a brick-and-mortar campus – I was from the South and knew about the school. That was 100 percent the deciding factor,” she said.
In fact, when Hy finished high school in Little Rock, AR, she was familiar with colleges and universities in the region. Her father was a political science professor at Ole Miss before heading to Arkansas.
“I wanted a master’s that was relevant. All the professors I had were adjuncts, which I appreciated because they had real-world experience they brought into the classroom. For me, I really appreciated that because real-world experience was why I was getting the degree,” she said. “I wanted to know how others used the classes, the research, the statistics in their day-to-day work.”
Beyond the practical experience TROY faculty members brought with them was their understanding of the sometimes-unique challenges faced by service members in completing the degree.
“The flexibility and understanding were great. If I had duty or other conflicts, the instructors worked with me to see me get graduated,” Hy said. “They wanted us to succeed.”
That was especially important for Hy’s situation. She chose to take the classes that were harder in person on post at night, saving the less-demanding courses to complete online when she transitioned overseas.
“My professors were always available to me, even when I had to work out a time to call – they’d make themselves available,” she said.
Now a Reserve Army military intelligence officer who has since earned master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University and the National Intelligence University, Hy said she has always encouraged her soldiers to earn degrees.
“I say ‘don’t wait’ – get that one degree and not wait if you think you want a degree. It’s basically free and your employer is paying you to get a degree (where else can you have job that does that), so the hardest thing about getting the degree is starting it,” she said. “With TROY and its hybrid learning environment, it’s always the ‘best time to start’ and people will work with you. If you have to take a semester off, more load one semester and less load another, there’s a way to do that and be successful.”
“If I was able to do it back then (when it was goArmyU), it’s certainly easier to do it now. Why not take advantage of the financial support and all the other support? Jump in and get started,” she said.