Commander Elouise “Ellie” Hurst had a childhood most today can only imagine. Growing up as “one of the Marble kids,” she experienced independence, adventure and a self-awareness that ultimately shaped her impressive career in the Navy — including her recent promotion as the commanding officer of the Center for Naval Aviation Technical Training Unit (CNATTU) in Norfolk, VA.
“We were kind of the wild ones,” Hurst chuckled. “I really cherish the way my parents chose to raise us and the freedom they allowed us.”
Born in El Paso, Texas, Hurst and her two brothers, Joe and Andrew, grew up in a career-military family. Her father, Stewart, was a heavy equipment mechanic in the Army for 21 years, and the family often moved around before he retired in Louisiana. Soon after, Stewart took a job in Grand Junction and they relocated once again to Colorado. One year later, an opportunity to work in the local coal mines arose, so they settled in the Crystal River Valley.
It was the late ‘70s and, according to Hurst, Marble was a sleepy town with about 60 residents year-round. The Marble Charter School did not yet exist — children being few and far between — but Hurst had her brothers for company and attended school in Carbondale.
At the time, Marble kids were required to have a designated “safe house” in Carbondale, in the event a heavy blizzard made the road impassable. For Hurst, that safe house was the home of Peggy and J.E. DeVilbiss — the parents of her dear friend, Jorie.
Elouise (left) with her best friend, Jorie, enjoying a summer day in Marble during the mid-1980s. Courtesy photo
Their friendship blossomed. While Hurst never had a need to use the safe house for that end, her parents “adored and trusted” the DeVilbisses who became like a second family.
“Jorie and I met in second or third grade and we became best friends,” Hurst recounted to The Sopris Sun. “She would come up to Marble and spend weekends with us, or I would go down and stay at their house. J.E. would load us all up in their car and take us to Canyonlands to go camping and hiking.”
Her parents trusted Hurst and her brothers while they ventured through the backcountry to follow three simple rules: stay out of the river during springtime, sign-in at the trailheads and be back before the streetlight came on.
“If we got into trouble, we knew how to get help,” Hurst stated.
“My parents took us to hunter-safety classes when I was eight or nine,” she recalled. By 13-years-old, “Every time I went up into the mountains he gave me a pistol. I’d take off on a motorcycle with a fishing pole and the pistol saying, ‘I’ll be back after dark. I’m going fishing.’”
Despite living in the Elk Mountains, Hurst was drawn to the ocean and dreamed of becoming a marine biologist. She was accepted to Texas A&M, Galveston’s undergraduate marine science program, but it would be costly.
While she knew that the Navy would pay for school, the eight-year commitment and her father’s declining health deterred her from leaving, and she decided to stay in the Valley. However, after one semester at Colorado Mountain College, Hurst knew the current would take her elsewhere.
“I finished my courses that day, drove to Glenwood Springs and enlisted in the Navy. I didn’t tell my parents … my mom was so mad,” Hurst laughed. “She wasn’t opposed to me joining the military, but she told me if I was joining that I had the brains to become an officer.”
“My dad just looked at me and said I just made the best decision in my life,” she added.
After enlisting in 1992 as an aviation structural mechanic, Hurst went on to gain special recognition as well as awards for her dedication to the profession. Over 13-years, she advanced through the ranks from an E-1, seaman recruit, to an E-7, chief petty officer, before applying for a commission in October 2005. As a first-time applicant she was accepted — a high honor in the military.
Since then, Hurst said it has been a whirlwind. She quickly moved from O-1, ensign, to O-5, commander; and upon this promotion, she immediately put in an application to be screened for commanding officer. Once again, she was selected the first time around.
Now, as the Commanding Officer of CNATTU, Hurst has 180 people on staff and directs all training operations for future aviation maintenance technicians and managers.
“I take that trust very seriously — to help mold, guide and present opportunities,” Hurst said. “There’s so much in the Navy. You just never know where you’ll end up. My plan was to do four years and get out, yet here I am 30 years later as a commanding officer of a training facility. I never dreamed of that.”
While an upbringing in Marble and Hurst’s work ethic fostered a lifestyle fit for the rigors of a groundbreaking Naval career, she said that her network was the key to her success. From her father who inspired her career, to the DeVilbiss family who offered friendship, to her colleagues who opened doors and to her wife, Katy, who has endlessly supported Hurst and their two young boys, family has meant everything.
“We don’t do this for the pay. There is so much camaraderie that your units and organizations become like a family. For me, there is a big sense of belonging,” Hurst said. “Family is huge. Nobody can do this without the support of family.”