Colonel (Retired) Dennis Fred Hilley (66) passed away at home in Valparaiso, Florida with his wife and daughter by his side. Dennis was a long-term cancer survivor and was on the list with Mayo Clinic for a kidney transplant. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation or the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
Dennis hailed from South Carolina and was born to Hillma and Fred Hilley. He is survived by his wife Chris Wasdin; daughter Chloe Hilley; son Jace Hilley and daughter-in-law Layni Hilley; granddaughter Gracelyn; mother Hilma Hilley; sister Karen Mathis and brother-in-law Chuck Mathis; nephew Cole Mathis; and great-niece Scarlet.
A 1979 graduate of the US Air Force Academy, Dennis served with distinction for over 32 years, carving out a stellar and unconventional career. After his initial assignments as a Security Police Officer, Dennis was selected for a coveted billet to the Space Operations career field. Space — the concept of manned travel through an endless universe — became a lifelong passion.
Assigned to the famed Cape Canaveral Air Station, Dennis rose to command a squadron where he became a nationally recognized space launch and range access expert. A veteran of 95 space and missile launches, Dennis could incredibly recall details of each launch even years later. A self-taught space historian, Dennis initiated his squadron’s restoration of the historical Complex 14 Blockhouse to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Mercury Atlas Space Program (1998). Between this event and his next assignments, he met several of the early astronauts, including Gordon Cooper, Buzz Aldrin, John Glen, and Neal Armstrong.
Dennis was next assigned as a military travel aide for Secretary of Defense William Cohen. By then, Dennis had risen to the rank of colonel and was personally in charge of coordinating the trips for the Secretary of Defense and his Deputy to over 50 countries.
During Dennis’ long and circuitous military career, he spent the equivalent of years in schools, collecting a Rolodex of professional and academic degrees to include a Masters Degree in Political Science from Auburn University and a second Masters Degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College in Washington D.C., as well as a 2003 National Security Management Fellowship at Syracuse University.
Dennis' twilight assignment was highlighted by his return to his coveted Space Command, where he served as Deputy Director of Space Programs at the Pentagon. His overflowing retirement ceremony was held at the soaring visage of the dramatic Air Force Memorial and was marked by a somewhat wistful Dennis, pausing his speech for a long look skyward toward the Heavens.
Duty, Honor, Country: three words that served as the foundation of Dennis’ career. He served not for honor or recognition, though the awards from a grateful nation still came. He was a decorated Persian Gulf War veteran, having earned among other medals: Medal of Merit for Distinguished Service, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit, and the Defense Superior Service Medal.
Even more remarkable, toward the latter years of his service Dennis was confronted with and overcame a health challenge that would have felled most. While working in the Secretary of Defense pressure cooker, he was diagnosed with an almost universally fatal cancer. As he did with any challenge, Dennis fought it through sheer grit, day in, day out, year in, year out, as the cancer and the treatments united to ravage his body.
Incredibly, perhaps miraculously, Dennis’ spirit remained undaunted, even when sentenced to dialysis and imprisoned by failing legs.
The source of Dennis’ strength was his unwavering faith in Christ and the unshakable love of his beloved wife, Chris, and children, Chloe and Jace. Together, the Hilley Family formed a wall the cancer couldn’t pierce.
Dennis persevered for almost 23 years, battling this crippling disease. In the end, it was his once magnificent heart, wearied by years of battle, that finally failed. In this, there was a victory: for it signaled Dennis had indeed beaten his cancer nemesis… finally.
The Hilley family would like to invite everyone back to their house follow the service to honor our statesman-airman, husband, father, brother, and friend with a celebration of food and recollections filled with humor, love, and faith.