Ocala vet wins new car in national contest
U.S. Army veteran Ernest Knight, right, celebrates in front of the new Toyota 4Runner he received through the Hiring Our Heroes program as his fiancée, Julio Hernandez, left, walks behind him during a ceremony at DeLuca Toyota in Ocala, Fla. on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Knight was given the SUV because of his winning entry in the annual Hiring Our Heroes Committed to America’s Heroes sweepstakes last year. The contest was open to all active duty military members and more than 85,000 entries were received. Knight, 31, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2013 and worked as a food service specialist. While in Kuwait during Operation Enduring Freedom, he was severely injured and was honorably discharged as a result of his injuries in 2015. Hiring Our Heroes is part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and helps military members transition back into the civilian workforce with assistance from the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
But the Ocala resident was picked out of 85,000 entries from across the nation to take home a 2021 Toyota 4Runner as part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “Hiring Our Heroes” sweepstakes.
On Tuesday, Knight picked up his new car from DeLuca Toyota.
“We’re very excited… We’re looking to take this nice vehicle for our honeymoon to Vegas,” Knight said, referring to his fiancé Julio Hernandez.
The sweepstakes was open to all active duty, reserve and guard service members, veterans and military spouses.
“We are thrilled to present a new vehicle to Ernest Knight, a third-generation veteran, who proudly served in the U.S. Army,” said Adam Rocke of Hiring Our Heroes.
Knight, 31, enlisted in the Army in 2013, where he worked as a food service specialist. While deployed in Kuwait during Operation Enduring Freedom, he suffered an injury that led to four knee surgeries and the eventual end of his military career. Knight was honorably discharged in 2015.
“Transitioning from the military back into the civilian world, for me, it was difficult to a certain extent,” Knight said. “It took a lot out of me. I had to relearn how to walk. I had to learn how to be able to move my knee and to build my knee.”
But those struggles are behind him now.
Nearly a dozen ladies, all part of Knight’s Zumba class, came out to help him celebrate.
Knight leads the class at the MVP Athletic Club in The Villages. Knight recently earned his master’s degree in criminal justice from Saint Leo University.
His interest in criminal justice led the Virginia native to Ocala. He previously worked for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. He left the agency to pursue his master’s.
“Ocala wasn’t in my plans. I always planned to move to Florida, but I always pictured Miami,” Knight said with a laugh. “But Ocala has grown on me, and actually, this is my home.”