From BHS to Middle East, then back home for Army retiree

Stacy Hillmer joins her husband, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Ralph Gresens “Tyke” Hillmer III, in a photo while he was still serving his country. The couple married in 2001, but he was deployed to Afghanistan immediately afterward. Now he is home with Stacy and their two sons, Hayes and Meyers.
After 20 years of serving his country in the military, retired U.S. Army, Lt. Col. Ralph Gresens “Tyke” Hillmer III has returned home.

“Those days are behind me,” Hillmer said about his military service. “I’m super happy to be back.”

While serving in the 82nd Airborne Division, he received the Bronze Star for “distinguishing himself through extraordinary service as the Division Supply Officer for Task Force 82 from Sept. 8. 2003, to Jan. 31, 2004, during Operation Iraqi Freedom I.”

These days Hillmer, a Bearden High School Class of 1993 graduate, is spending time with his wife, Stacy, and their two boys, Hayes and Meyers, and is working with Tradebank, near Parkside Drive. Additionally, he has a daughter, Hannah, from a previous marriage.

Hillmer grew up in West Knox County, where his parents still reside in his boyhood home along Northshore Drive.

He was named after his father and grandfather, but he earned his nickname at birth.

“When I was born, I was ‘Little Tyke,’” he recalled. “I’ve gone by Tyke my whole life. It just stuck.”

Hillmer had not planned on going into the military. He was introduced to Reserve Officer Training Corps at freshmen orientation at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, where he majored in hospitality management.

“My parents said they would pay for me to go to school anywhere I wanted as long as I made a B average,” he recalled.

In 2001, after serving four years, Hillmer already had an interview lined up with Sysco Foods, but “someone flew into the World Trade Center,” he recalled, so he decided to stay in the Army.

Since then, he has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as at Fort Bragg,

He was able to use his management skills in a quartermaster role as a division supply officer, handling logistics for supplies and materials and opening military bases.

In addition to serving during wartime, he also helped with recovery after Hurricane Katrina in the New Orleans area in 2005.

Hillmer started his military career as a second lieutenant, but retired as a lieutenant colonel.

As his 20-year service date approached, he learned he was about to be deployed back to Iraq the next year — but Stacy gave him an ultimatum.

“You can go to Iraq, but you will come home to an empty house,” Hillmer recalled his wife telling him, so he retired.