JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
"I was born Vanya Smirnoff Germanovich in Odessa, Ukraine," said Airman 1st Class Evan Hittle. "I lived in an apartment with my parents, Gera and Aleynea, and my older sister, Natasha. We were poor and always moving to new apartments. There isn't very much for young kids to do in Odessa so it was common to see them smoking or drinking."
Hittle's mother and father were both addicted to heroin.
"My dad died of a heroin overdose first," said Hittle. "I remember the ambulance coming to take him away. We never saw his body again. After that, my mother was very depressed. She overdosed 10 days later. Again, an ambulance came and took her away forever."
Without parents to pay the rent, the landlord evicted Hittle and his sister from the apartment. Hittle, who was five years old and his sister who was seven at the time spent a few days with neighbors but eventually began living in treehouses built by other kids from Odessa, scavenging for stale bread or anything to eat.
After three weeks, a friend of their mother, Vadik, found and fed them and got Evan and his sister into an orphanage. They remained in the first orphanage for a year before moving to second orphanage which offered schooling for the children. Hittle and Natasha lived in that orphanage for approximately six years before being adopted, in 2007, by Jerry Hittle and Laura Alvstad, who lived in Beaverton, Ore.
"When we first brought Evan and Natalia home, they were so tired," said Alvstad. "We mostly communicated through our broken Russian and their newly learned English. After Evan's first year with us, he grew six inches and gained 100 pounds."
Shortly after the adoption, Hittle and Natasha were given the option of choosing new names. They chose Evan and Natalia. Both siblings learned English very quickly and graduated from high school on time with their peers.
With the help of his new family Hittle overcame his challenging childhood. Now a 437th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron instrument and flight control systems specialist, Hittle is recognized by his coworkers as an outstanding Airman in the 437th AMXS.
"Hittle defines resilience and what it means to overcome adversity," said Maj. Robert Ryder, 437th AMXS commander. "In today's Air Force, we strive to ensure all our Airmen are resilient and give them tools on how to deal with adversity. Evan has used his unfortunate childhood and turned it into a positive. He learned to take on the most difficult situation imaginable, push through it and found ways to move forward, to live. This internal drive that was forced upon him made him the person and Airman he is today."
As an instrument and flight control systems specialist, Hittle is responsible for performing maintenance and solving malfunctions on C-17 Globemaster III aircraft through the use of technical publications, wiring diagrams and schematics. His job also includes ensuring autopilot, fuel, flight control, indication and data recording systems are working properly.
"Hittle is extremely positive, hardworking and thinks he's a comedian," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Pock, a 437th AMXS instrument and flight control systems specialist and Hittle's supervisor. "At work he's always the first on the line and the last off. His enthusiasm and work ethic are two of the many things setting him apart from other Airmen. I can walk into the shop asking for a volunteer and he will immediately step up without even knowing what the task is. One time a broken C-17 arrived on Christmas needing a crew to repair it. Hittle wasn't assigned to the job but showed up to help the team get the job done anyway."
During his free time, Hittle enjoys spending time with friends at the beach, playing football, video games, going to RiverDogs games and riding his motorcycle.
"He's a really laid back individual," said Senior Airman Derek Kisucky, a 437th AMXS instrument and flight control systems specialist. "He likes to have a good laugh but, when work needs to be done, he's really a guy who you can count on. For the most part he's a carefree and happy to be alive guy. He saw some things growing up as a child. He's seen what this country and the Air Force has to offer and he works hard to make sure things don't go back to how they were before."
Hittle came to the United States when he was 12 years old, 5 feet and 5 inches tall and 70 pounds. Today he is an athletic 6 feet tall, weighing approximately 225 pounds. Hittle hopes his story will help people strive toward a better life.
"I honestly think if my sister and I didn't get adopted, we wouldn't be alive today," said Hittle. "Growing up the way we did, with no future ahead and not knowing any other way to survive, we wouldn't have lived much longer. I hope people going through hardships seek the help they need. Tough times are tough times and everyone's problems matter."
Taking advantage of the opportunities provided to them by their adoptive family and new home, Natalia is studying to become a beautician in Oregon while Hittle plans to make the Air Force his career. They are both leading successful, productive lives a long way from the stale bread and treehouses of their youth.