Dr. Yardley Nelson Hunter was born in 1953 in Buffalo, New York. She grew up in Buffalo, graduating from high school in 1971. She then went to Bennett College in Greensboro on a National Endowment for the Humanities scholarship. During her time at Bennett, Hunter (then, Nelson) entered the ROTC program at the nearby A&T State University. Upon graduation, she entered the United States Air Force with a commission as a second lieutenant in August of 1975.
Hunter attended officer basic training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, as well as sixteen weeks of air traffic control school at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. While at Keesler, she attended an informational session to recruit the first class of women to enter the Air Force Academy, applied, and was accepted.
In January of 1976, Hunter went to the Air Force Academy with a cadre of other young female officers, where they were trained and then served as upperclassmen to the incoming freshman class of female officers. That upper class cadre was referred to as Air Training Officers, or ATOs.
Hunter married a fellow Air Force officer in 1978, and they were both assigned to Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. While stationed there she became pregnant and had a child (A 1976 law allowed pregnant women to remain in the United States military.) Her next assignment was to Edwards Air Force Base. She was a captain at the time, but filled a position intended for a major.
Later, Hunter and her husband were assigned to England, with her at RAF Mildenhall and he at RAF Lakenheath. While they were there, her husband participated in Operation El Dorado Canyon, which was a United States bombing raid on Libya conducted in 1986.
Hunter and her husband were then divorced, and she returned to the United States, leaving the military, obtaining her MBA, and settling in Greensboro, North Carolina with her daughter and son. She then joined the Air National Guard in 1988 as an enlisted member, continuing to work primarily as a teacher, and remained in the Guard for ten years before retiring.