Michael served in the Army on active duty and in the Reserve before joining the National Guard. In 2004 he deployed to Iraq with a MiTT team to train Iraqi forces. In his interview, he discusses his deployment, what it was like working with the Iraqis and what it was like balancing a military and civilian life.
Interview conducted on April 3, 2016 in High Bridge, New Jersey
Present: Richard Hayden, Michael Hafke and Irene Hafke
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Michael Hafke: Michael Walter Hafke.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
MH: I served in the United States Army. I served from January 1986 through February 2012.
RH: What was your rank when you got out?
MH: Sergeant First Class, E7.
RH: What was your MOS?
MH: The first thirteen years I was an MP and the second thirteen years I was Supply.
RH: What were some of the units that you were in?
MH: Well, of my twenty-six years I was five years active duty and the rest was with the Army Reserves and the New Jersey Army National Guard. When I was active duty, three years I was stationed in Germany and one year I spent in Iraq. So four of my five years active duty I spent outside of the US.
RH: Could you actually break down what those years were?
MH: I was in Germany ’86 through ’89. January ’89 I was released from active duty and went into the Army Reserves. And then again, May of ’04 through December of ’05 I was active duty again.
RH: Alright. Great. What motivated you to join the military?
MH: Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to join. I always had watched Army movies and always thought it would be interesting. I think the camaraderie and just traveling, doing things differently and being part of a team, I always had an interest in that.
RH: Why did you pick the MOS that you did?
MH: I always had an interest in law enforcement. Ultimately that’s what my full time career was – police officer. It was something I definitely had a strong interest in, law enforcement. But once I was in the Reserves after my active duty time and working full time as a police officer I wanted to do something different so when I transferred from the Army Reserves into the National Guard, I changed my MOS to Supply.
RH: Alright. Good to go. How did your family feel about your decision?
MH: My dad supported it. He was Army – he did three years in the Army. My mom, probably like a typical mom, she was a big worrier. She signed my papers for me to join at seventeen. I know she wasn’t overly thrilled but she accepted it.
RH: Alright. Where were you on September 11th?
MH: I was actually at the Union County Police Academy in service computer training.
RH: What are some of your memories of that day?
MH: We had a class. I remember it was a Tuesday morning and during our first break one of the instructors had told us that – he was watching the news – there was a small plane that hit one of the Twin Towers. The first reports came over that it was a Cessna, at least what we had heard. We all thought, “Wow. That’s strange,” because it didn’t really seem foggy. But, then again, we didn’t know what the weather was like in the city even though probably on the air miles, we were less than ten miles from the city. Then on our second break we heard a second plane hit and then immediately knew that’s not a coincidence. That’s an act of terror. Then we all went to the break room and we were pretty much watching the news footage of the planes hitting the towers. They kept showing over and over. We watched it for several hours until, ultimately, both towers collapsed. And at that point the academy closed down the school and they said, “Everybody just go back to your respective departments.”
RH: OK. And you were in Clinton Township?
MH: Clinton Township Police.
RH: In the weeks and months that followed, did Clinton Township, the police department or were you involved in any of the clean up or some of the efforts down at Ground Zero?
MH: No. It’s kind of a little bit complicated. At the time we had a twenty-two man department and in August of 2001 my department ultimately wound up indicting and firing seven guys, which is like a third of the department, one month prior to 9/11. At the time my armory was in Morristown and after September 11th my unit was activated and mobilized for four months. I was supposed to be a part of it but our police chief at the time called up the Battalion Commander of Morristown and said, “Look, due to extenuating circumstances we just lost a third of our department and we understand Michael Hafke has an obligation with the National Guard but we really need him in Clinton Township.” So for that reason I was not mobilized with the rest of my unit. I actually wanted to do it but my Battalion Commander, after speaking to the police chief, said, “OK. We won’t mobilize him.”
RH: Did you guys in the department locally take any anti-terrorism measures? What was Clinton Township’s response like?
MH: Coming back on the day of 9/11 and, in fact, the rest of that week, because there’s two commuter points in Clinton Township – there’s a train station as well as a bus station – we went to those locations and were speaking with anybody to see. Also at that time we weren’t sure if there were any chemical agents or any other acts of terror that might have been involved. So we were just speaking to people because they were predominantly commuters from New York City that would come back into this area – speaking to them about if and what they had seen. Aside from that, the rest of the week we were assigned to the schools because a lot of the children were afraid. We spent the rest of that week – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday – in the schools just basically associating with the children.
RH: OK. What was the overall mood in Clinton Township like in the weeks and months following September 11th?
MH: I guess it depended with everybody on an individual basis. I’m originally born in New York City and I still had relatives that worked in the city. My father had just retired from the New York Telephone company in Manhattan so for me it was a little bit more of a closer connection, I think, than most people. I don’t know if a lot of people had a real direct connection other than just the initial shock of most everybody in the country that how such a big act of terrorism could even occur.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where did you go to boot camp?
MH: Fort McClellan, Alabama.
RH: What was boot camp like?
MH: To me it was pretty much like summer camp as a kid and wrestling camp. I wrestled growing up and you had the physical aspect of being in a wrestling camp, being told to do push-ups and PT. But it also seemed like summer camp where you were with a bunch of your buddies and just having fun.
RH: Interesting. Did you deploy for Desert Storm?
MH: No. I had just gotten off active duty in ’89 – January of ’89 – and I was in the reserves but I did not get mobilized for Desert Storm.
RH: What was some of the follow-up training after boot camp like?
MH: For me it was called One Stop Unit Training. They had basic training and I went right into the military police school. I had the same Drill Sergeants, the same bunk and I was at Fort McClellan for about five months. I stayed there the entire time and basic training through the Army is pretty universal. Everybody gets taught basic soldiering skills. We graduated then military police school started and was, in my opinion, nothing but glorified infantry school. They really don’t hit on as much law enforcement as you might think. It was more being a combat MP which is handling Enemy Prisoners of War, that type of thing, and call for fire. You’re basically a scout in your combat role in the military police.
RH: Alright. Good to go. From ’86 to ’89, what were some of the places you were stationed?
MH: I went to Germany and I first spent thirteen months at a nuclear site. It was the 556th MP Company. Pretty much it was the worst, miserable year of my life. I hated it there. We worked ninety hours a week and we had two days off a month. I absolutely hated it. My wife Irene was also in Germany. She went to Germany two months ahead of me and ultimately I was able to get released from my major command which was the 59th Ordnance Brigade and be reassigned to the First Armored Division in Ansbach, Germany and I was with the 501st MP Company there where I completed my final eighteen months.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Let’s go ahead and talk about your deployment. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
RH: And you were in the Reserves at this time?
MH: National Guard.
RH: OK. How did you get called up for that?
MH: It was actually leap year 2004, February 29th, and I got a phone call at home from my Section Sergeant. He was the one that told me. He said that the 42nd Infantry Division which covered the New Jersey Army National Guard was being mobilized and I would hear further instructions and further orders during the week. At that time I, in a way, wasn’t surprised because the year before, less than a year before, the United States and coalition invaded Iraq. In October 2001 we invaded Afghanistan and they were using more and more National Guard units so I wasn’t overly surprised but still, in the same aspect, I can’t say I was thrilled to hear about it. They did tell us it would probably be a mobilization of up to two years and I just couldn’t imagine being mobilized for that long. Ultimately it was nineteen months that I was mobilized for.
RH: Where in Iraq did you deploy to?
MH: I was part of what was called a MiTT team – a Military Instructional Transition Team. Originally when I got there I was at a place called Camp Speicher in Tikrit. That was probably the third biggest military base over there. We had about eight thousand military personnel and four thousand civilians. It was home of the Iraqi Air Force Academy so it was a big area. They had air strips there and I was there for a couple months before being transferred up to a city called Tuz Kharmoto. That’s where they had the Fourth Iraqi Army Division and that was where their headquarters was. It was just south of Kirkuk which was a big Kurdish base up there – a lot of oil fields. So we were up there for about four months training the Fourth Iraqi Army Division. I was part of a group of ten Americans and we were training three hundred and sixty Iraqis.
Then General Casey met with General Aziz who was the commander of the Iraqi armed forces. In fact, I was at that meeting and I even have pictures of it, where they met. General Aziz did not want to move the headquarters because sixty percent of the Fourth Iraqi Army Division were Kurdish and the United States Wanted the Fourth Iraqi Army Division headquarters to be moved back down to Tikrit which is Saddam’s hometown which is a Sunni Muslim area. General Aziz, his contention was that a lot of people were going to quit. They’re not going to make the move just out of fear of moving down into an area that they’re not as familiar with.
But ultimately the Fourth Iraqi Army Division headquarters was moved and of course us being trainers, we moved along with them. We took over a base called FOB Dagger and FOB Dagger was a castle on the Tigris River that was made for Saddam’s sister. When we took it over, we took it over from the Third Infantry Division and myself and a Major that I worked with, we were the ones that had to do the inventory. We signed over all the equipment which was generators, the entire palace itself, and turned it over to the Fourth Iraqi Armored Division. That became their new headquarters. While FOB Dagger became the Iraqi Army compound, we stayed overnight at a place called FOB Ramagan which was also in Tikrit. It was only about a ten minute drive away but there were quite a few military bases in the city of Tikrit which was Saddam’s hometown.
RH: Alright. I’m going to backtrack just a little bit. What was it like the day and night before you deployed?
MH: For us they kept on postponing it, our deployment date, so it was really kind of frustrating because we were eventually mobilized in May of ’04. They told us first that by August of ’04 we were going to be in Iraq then it was September then October then November then December. It was just getting frustrating and a lot of the people like friends and family were all thinking, “That’s great. You’re not going to go.” And I kept telling them, “No, that’s not a good thing because all that’s doing is prolonging our time. Whenever I do go, I’m going to be there for a year so all this time right now is just wasted time.”
Ultimately, December 2nd I was in a first aid class at Fort Dix and my section Sergeant came to me and he said, “Hey, we’ve got to talk to you. Tomorrow you’re going to go out on the advance party.” So I said, “Well, I’m not staying in this class.” And he goes, “Nope. Absolutely. Go home and get your affairs in order.” I immediately drove home, told Irene my wife and our children. I said, “Tomorrow I’m leaving and I have to be back at base five o’clock tomorrow night.” It was kind of hard. It seemed very surreal in a sense that in a way it was a bit of a relief but at the same aspect to think, “Are you even going to come home?,” because at that point in ’04 there was really a lot of violence going on in Iraq. I know I didn’t get much sleep that night.
RH: Alright. What was it like when you first touched down in Iraq?
MH: First we landed in Kuwait. We were in Kuwait for two weeks of acclimation training. We flew out of McGuire Air Force Base December 3rd and we landed in Kuwait December 4th. So December 4th was boots on the ground in Kuwait and it was more just acclimation training, getting used to the climate and just dealing with the typical Army hurry up and wait type of thing. December 18th two weeks later we actually were sent up to Iraq. It was just really an incredible feeling actually being in Iraq and dealing with incoming mortars and rockets almost on a daily basis. Outside of our CHUs we had safe zones which were concrete pillars that we would go under once we came under attack.
RH: Did you guys fly up or convoy up?
MH: I flew up. I flew up to Iraq a month before my unit got there and I stayed a month after. So I was in Iraq for twelve months. My unit was there for ten months. They drove each way in and because I was there a later period of time, I wound up flying each way.
RH: What, specifically, was your job within the unit?
MH: My job was training the Iraqi Army with supply and logistics. For me, it was a unique position because in a way I came across to them like Santa Claus. I was the one that got them everything whether it was their military vehicles, their uniforms, their weapons, their ammunition – you name it. We had and account and we were able to get up to five thousand dollars a month that myself and the Major would provide money to the Iraqis providing that they had receipts that it was necessary for their equipment. For example pens, paper. Anything along those lines – sunglasses. I’m sure that there was probably an area of abuse because a lot of the receipts were hand written but our job was mainly just to try to verify that it was a legitimate receipt. We would go to the main base called FOB Danger in Tikrit once a month and we would go down there and pick up five thousand dollars in cash and then disburse it back to the Iraqis with the receipts that were provided. In the meantime we had a local translator that we used so he – this guy Imad – would translate from what myself and my Major had to say to the Iraqis and vice versa. So it was actually a very good working relationship that we had with them.
RH: Nice. What do you remember most about deploying in those early couple of weeks and months?
MH: I think the first thing was I had a lot of anxiety about being so far away from my family. I think that was by far the most difficult thing that I had but I think my faith is what helped get through that – reading my Bible every day and feeling very spiritually that God was there to protect me and I was there for a reason and to make the best of it.
RH: Let’s talk about the Iraqis a little bit. So you trained the Iraqi Army.
RH: What was that like?
MH: In some ways it was frustrating because many of them did not have the work ethic that you would have in the US military. Prior to the United States and the coalition taking over, the Iraqi Army was a mandatory draft. Every male had to do eighteen months and they only got paid the equivalent of about fifty dollars a month and the Iraqis would be stationed far away from home. The Iraqi culture is that they are very close to their family. The Iraqis would work seven days and then they were off seven days so it was almost like a part-time job in that sense but their days off were spent travelling to and from home because they just wanted to enjoy time with their families. When the US took over, Private – which was a Jundi – would earn the equivalent of about five hundred dollars a month so that was the main reason why there were so many volunteers into the Iraqi Army. It was mainly because of the money but because of that you didn’t have a really strong NCO leadership in the Iraqi military. You didn’t have anybody to whip these guys into shape. A lot of them were pretty much there for the money to say, “OK, the money’s great.” I don’t think their hearts were truly into it but the men that I worked with were really good guys.
RH: What were you specifically training them on?
MH: How to document inventory and supply, the forms that we used for transferring money, signing for equipment and turning it over to another individual. Just making sure you do proper inventory because once you sign for millions of dollars in equipment, you’re responsible for it. You want to make sure you’re not signing for something that isn’t there.
RH: What are some of your specific memories of some of the Iraqis that you worked with?
MH: They had a lot of questions about life in America. Of course during my time over there I worked at the division level and we had three different brigades that were underneath us. The Iraqi Army was built upon the British military where in the US military under a division – at least in the Army, I’m not sure how the Marines do it – there would be four brigades underneath a division where the British have three brigades. The British were the ones that originally trained the Iraqis and they were still using the format of the British military – they had three brigades.
At least once a month we were flying to the different brigades under our division and every month you would see more and more satellite dishes throughout the country because when Saddam was in power, there was only two government-controlled television stations for the whole country. It was pretty much propaganda about how the United States was the Great Satan type of thing and they had a great fear of Americans. During my time there you would get more and more satellite dishes. Of course, now they’re getting European stations and they were able to see more of the outside world and that not everybody from the West was out to hurt them as Saddam might have liked them to believe.
RH: So you were at Camp Speicher most of the time, correct?
MH: The first couple of months I was there and then we left. I went to FOB Bernstein then Dagger and while I was at Dagger at night I stayed at Ramagan.
RH: OK. And these were all Iraqi Army outposts?
MH: When I was in Tuz, we trained at the Fourth Iraqi Army Division headquarters which was in the city of Tuz. That was always the Iraqi military. It didn’t have any FOB – which stands for Forward Operating Base. It didn’t have a name like that because it always was part of the Iraqis. It was known as the Fourth Army Division headquarters in Tuz. When we took over Dagger, that became the headquarters of the Fourth Iraqi Army Division and that was on the southern end of Tikrit.
RH: Did you ever move throughout the country or were you just moving from FOB to FOB?
MH: I lived at, specifically, four different bases – Speicher, Bernstein, Dagger and Ramagan. Those were the four bases that I actually lived at during the twelve months that I was there.
RH: OK. Can you describe some of the AOs that you were in? What were they like?
MH: As I was saying, Speicher was huge. They had an airfield there. It was almost like being in a city. They had numerous chow halls. They had chow halls during the night that were open because it was so big and you had so many people. You had twelve thousand people there that were at the base. The food was absolutely unbelievable. They served surf and turf there almost every day. You could eat as much as you want as often as you want and they definitely treated you well.
When I was in Bernstein, it was a small base. There were only about five hundred soldiers there that were from the Tennessee Army National Guard and I believe there were four civilians so it was night and day different than to be at Speicher. Unfortunately, as nice as the guys were from Tennessee, because it was apparently the last stop on the meal route, there was never any fresh milk. There was never any salad. The food was absolutely the worst. Inmates by far would have gotten a lot better food. Our only highlight was that one meal a day we ate with the Iraqis which they would serve for us. That was always a good meal whether it was chicken or lamb, we had that every day.
RH: Alright. What are some of the notable events that occurred during your deployment?
MH: Let’s see. I was in Kuwait in December of ’04 when Donald Rumsfeld came to give a briefing at our base and they had a question and answer session. One of the soldiers asked him, “Why are we there in Humvees using hillbilly armor?” I was physically present and heard that and Rumsfeld kind of looked around the audience and looked at his advisors for like a, “OK, what do I say here?” It was pretty funny. It was definitely an awkward moment for him because he wasn’t expecting such a question but it might have helped jump start a lot of the up armored vehicles because the first three months that I was in Iraq we had Humvees that had steel welded onto the sides of it. There was nothing on top and it was basically for small arms fire that would be coming in at an angle. There was nothing on the sides or anything. It was only in April of 2005 that we got our up armored Humvees for traveling around. That was one.
Additionally, numerous IED attacks. We traveled in a military convoy six of the seven days a week. We traveled every day except their holy day. Saturdays we wouldn’t travel out. It was a lot of incidents like that with close calls that thankfully never hit its mark.
RH: Did you go on patrol with the Iraqis?
MH: No. Our mission was strictly just training them. For example, one time when we were coming back from the Iraqis, there was an IED in the road that was called in. Because the BAF –Backup Alert Force – wasn’t available, our team which consisted of four Humvees, we had to secure the area and we had to wait out there for about four hours until EOD was able to come out. Once EOD arrived they had this robot, kind of like a miniature tank, that had a camera on it and I was able to watch this robot go out to the suspected IED. It was, in fact, two Russian-made anti-tank mines wired together on the side of the road. Once EOD was able to confirm that it was in fact an IED, they brought the robot back, put the plastic explosives in the arm of this robot, they brought it back out there, they put the plastic explosives on top of the mines and brought it back. One of the Majors I worked with was actually able to press the button to detonate it so we watched these two anti-tank mines explode. That was pretty memorable. Especially because we were there for so many hours, we were actually concerned about running out of water because we didn’t know how long we were going to be out there for.
RH: Alright. Good to go. I don’t know if you can answer this but what was the enemy like?
MH: It was hard because unlike other wars you really didn’t know who the enemy was. It wasn’t that they were wearing a uniform. Unlike the initial invasion of March of ’03 where you were actually fighting the Iraqis, we were fighting an unknown enemy. It could have been anybody. It could have been the farmer with the donkey cart that was transporting IEDs or hiding a mortar in the back of a trailer. You really didn’t know who to trust which was the unfortunate thing.
One week we had two suicide bombers blow themselves up right across the street from us at the Iraqi Army compound. I know the one morning we would alternate our time schedule. We didn’t want to be on a regular routine as far as getting there the same time every day. So sometimes we would get there real early in the morning just after breakfast or sometimes we would even get there at lunch time and just stay later because we wanted to keep any possible insurgency intelligence from knowing when or where we were showing up. The one day I was taking my body armor off and felt a percussion and saw this big mushroom cloud just on the other side of the barrier from where we were at and it was a suicide bomber from Sudan. In fact, twice in two days there were suicide bombers from Sudan that blew themselves up right across the street from the Fourth Iraqi Army Division compound. There was a bombing where there were twelve people killed and the other one was eight.
RH: I know you talked about this a little bit but what were some of the challenges that the Iraqi Army soldiers faced? Maybe not just in combat but being local and actually fighting in where they are from.
MH: I think a lot of it, the challenges for me that I noticed, again, would have been their motivation and their desire to want to fight. Again, since I didn’t speak the language I wasn’t able to fully understand what their thoughts were other than what my interpreter would tell me. The interpreter that we had was actually a local Iraqi guy that was vetted through the military intelligence. He was just a fantastic guy – just a very kind, soft-spoken man. You didn’t have to speak the language to see and notice how some of the Iraqis literally just didn’t want to get out of their chair. They just wanted to eat and take a nap. That’s really about it. When was their time to go home?
RH: Are there any Iraqis in particular that stick out?
MH: In what way?
RH: You had your interpreter but I’m wondering, since you worked so close with them, are there any that – I don’t know if they were particularly memorable – but any that stick out? Any good ones? Bad ones?
MH: Yes. There were two Iraqi officers. They were both in the Iraqi Air Force prior to the US invasion. Being pilots, they had to learn English so their English was very good. There was Colonel Walid and Major Hamid. Just truly genuine, good people. I had a lot more respect for them than quite a few US military officers. They were just so down to earth and truly fun and interesting to speak with – just very gentle-type people. They had very interesting stories that they would have to tell during the Saddam Hussein years and I think for myself as well as a lot of the Iraqis, they had so many questions about what life in America was like the same as me asking them about their lives at home and their families. We didn’t really get the opportunity to get immersed in their home lives but it was still interesting to know who they lived with or their wives or what their parents do for work. That type of thing.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What do you remember most about the soldiers that you served with in Iraq?
MH: As far as the US or the Iraqi?
RH: The US.
MH: I think we were pretty much all in the same boat in the sense that we were all National Guardsmen. It was pretty much a secondary career for us so it was, in a way, a little bit of a shock that all of a sudden now you’re in the full-time Army again and this is the only life that we knew at that point. I guess you pretty much knew what you were expected to do and just wanted the time to pass so you just did your job.
RH: Were they police officers as well or did they come from different occupations?
MH: On the ten man team that I was with I was actually the only guy that was not full-time Army National Guard. Coincidentally, the other guys were all full-time AGR – Active Guard Reserve – from the New York National Guard and I was a part-time New Jersey guy even though we all fell under the 42nd Infantry Division which was our main command out of Albany, New York. They, in a way, were all full-timers but they were full-time with the New York Army National Guard.
RH: Got it. What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
MH: I think the beginning by far. At least for me, the thought of being away from home for so long. The one thing that I was fortunate about is that, being that I went advanced party, I had the option of when to go home for my R&R. I chose my R&R as late as possible because some guys, because of the timeframe, they were only in country for one month and then they had to go home for their R&R. To me, I would have been miserable to do that. At least for me, I tried to set it back as long as possible to have that light at the end of the tunnel to look at so I didn’t come until August of ’05 for my two week R&R. By the time I was leaving to come home, I was already under a hundred days again so that just made it so much easier to go back to Iraq knowing that I was a short timer to be back in the States again.
RH: Alright. Good to go. As the deployment went on and you gained more experience, how did you grow and how did you change?
MH: Not that we ever let our guard down because of the danger but I think our working relationship with the Iraqis grew a lot stronger. The leader of our ten man team was a full bird Colonel and he was definitely not the easiest to work with by any means. I wish it was a little bit different. I know I wasn’t the only person that felt that way but I don’t know if it was the stress of being away from home for him. I was his driver so I was in the vehicle with him every day driving and it made it tough but as far as my relationships with the Iraqis, they only got better. I really was very thankful to be on that assignment because I truly had a great time with them.
RH: Good to go. What the most challenging non-combat aspect of deploying?
MH: Again, I think just being away from family. That was mentally the toughest for me. As a parent I had three kids. My kids were twelve, fourteen and sixteen when I deployed and that was definitely an age where they needed their father around. We were also doing a big renovation on our house at the time and, literally, there was no security to the house. We had tarps hanging over the house and my wife and kids were here and a lot of people knew that I was away so I always worried, God forbid, if the wrong person had any bad intentions, it would be so easy just to walk into the house in the middle of the night. So that was another area that I definitely worried about a lot – being so far away from home that you don’t have that control to be able to help if you want. Being that I worked on remote assignment, I was only able to call home about once a month so it’s not like today where people have facebook and Skype. We didn’t have that. it was literally a matter of once a month I would try to call home, usually when we went to FOB Danger or when we went to go pick up the money for the Iraqis was when I would try to call home. But due to the time difference being eight hours ahead, a lot of the times it was midnight or after when I would call home.
RH: Alright. Good to go. One quick question. I just want to clarify, you said FOB Danger. Did you mean FOB Dagger?
MH: Danger was Saddam’s palace, Dagger was his sister’s palace. Danger – they actually closed that down while I was there and turned that also back to the Iraqis. Dagger was his sister’s palace probably about five miles south.
On a side note, it was funny, one time when we got back to Ramagan at night, Colonel Walid the Iraqi officer called up our Colonel and told a funny story. There was a generator mechanic who was only an E4. Because generators are what suppled power to the bases, the mechanics were in high demand so they were always being transported to different bases to find out the problem and order parts. Well, this generator mechanic, this Specialist E4, was supposed to be dropped off at FOB Danger while the pilot dropped him off at Dagger which was the American compound but now it’s entirely Iraqi. So the Blackhawk comes in. This guy gets out and, see you later, flies off. Now here’s this E4 and nothing but Iraqis come out. He shit his pants [RH laughs] because what the hell? These aren’t Americans. So Colonel Walid, being that he spoke good English and had a satellite phone with the Colonel, called up and it was like a big joke. They basically put him up for the night and said, “OK, you can stay here with us and tomorrow morning when the American trainers come, we’ll drive you over to Danger.” Even the next morning the guy still looked like he was shell shocked. He was so freaked. But again, it was so close – Dagger and Danger.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed your deployment?
MH: I don’t know. I mean, myself personally, I guess probably the first time that I ever felt that this was really what you joined the military for. Even though you knew that the possibility was there, I’d always served in peacetime and during Desert Storm I was in the Reserves but wasn’t activated to go over to Saudi Arabia. But I guess it was still a big shock to be told, “Regardless of what you say, you’re going and you’re going to be away from your family for such a long period of time.”
Another thing was that I was held under stop loss too. I was mobilized in May of ’04 and my enlistment expired in August of ’04. I had asked and legitimately said, “Do I still go if my enlistment ends?” They said, “No. If your unit becomes mobilized you are held under stop loss.” I accepted it. I didn’t protest or make any stink. I always kind of laughed it off thinking that was kind of funny because the Army will get you one way or another to their advantage. Several times during my deployment I was contacted by the orderly room personnel saying, “Sergeant Hafke you have to reenlist.” I’m like, “Why?” They’re like, “Your ETS expired.” I said, “I’m here regardless so what difference does it make?” “Well, just for paperwork reasons you should reenlist.” I said, “I’m not going to reenlist. I’m here. It’s my silent protest.” [RH laughs] Not that it meant anything. I was just like, “What’s the point of reenlisting?”
Funny, in 2011 I got a letter from the Department of the Army. I always get stuff from the New Jersey Army National Guard but I never got stuff from the Department of the Army and it said, according to our records, you were held under stop loss for sixteen months. Congress enacted a stop loss retroactive pay. Go to this website, verify your information, and we’re giving five hundred dollars a month for every month that soldiers were held under stop loss. I got a check for eight thousand dollars.
RH: Nice! [laughs]
MH: I’m thinking, “Man, had I reenlisted I wouldn’t have been eligible for it.”
RH: There you go!
MH: I was like, “Do you know what? It all worked out.” So I wound up taking the whole family to the Dominican [Republic] for a family vacation together. It worked out really well and I always thought, “Thank God I didn’t reenlist because then I wouldn’t have been eligible for it because I was already an enlisted soldier.”
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before we move on to coming home and post-deployment, is there anything that we left out that you would like to address?
MH: Nothing that I can think of other than just that working with the Iraqis truly was my highlight. I actually enjoyed that. It was one of the most eye-opening experiences that I ever had. When we started training with the Iraqis, there were no other MiTT teams that were there before us. We were the first ones to start working with the Iraqis in this area. When I came home, we were replaced but the 101st Airborne Division. We had a team of ten American soldiers and they came in with thirty-five soldiers. Already they had a much broader mission with more resources than we did. But I think just the same for the Iraqis as it was for the ten of us, to meet for the very first time it was just so incredible because a year earlier this was the enemy. Now all of a sudden you’re there assigned to work with them and train them every day so to me it was the novelty of such an incredible experience was very unique.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Actually, before we get into your post-deployment experience, what was it like the night that you left Iraq for the last time?
MH: The night that I left it was, again, just a great feeling to think that we were actually going to be home again. We just wanted to make a safe trip home but it was also funny in a sense that during the time at night when we had our CHUs, the Major that I worked with – really good guy, his name is Art Zegers – a lot of times I knew where he slept. What I would do is if I had to go to the bathroom at night, I would pick up one of the sandbags that was near his CHU and I would throw it really hard against the wall where he was sleeping. Of course it would scare the crap out of him. One day he came to me and was like, “God. Did you hear that mortar round? It shook my whole CHU. It scared the crap out of me.” Of course I laughed and then he realized that it was me so for the last couple of months he and I were playing a tit for tat [RH laughs] throwing rocks or whatever we could at the other person’s CHU because we knew exactly where you slept. It was really pretty much thin sheet metal that you were sleeping behind.
The very last night that I was there – in fact it was the last night – I was like, “Oh man. I’ve got to make this memorable.” I could actually see through the venetian blinds where he was. He was laying in his bunk with his headphones on and he was reading a book. Well, where we were at all the rocks were pretty much the same standard small river rock and I was using that for months. I know how loud it is and what it can do but I wanted something bigger. I kept walking in such a big radius looking for something big – even a sandbag was even more of a cushion-type of a thump. So I saw a Humvee and in the back of the Humvee there was a fireman’s axe. It was like a sledgehammer on one end and an axe on the other. I’m like, “This will work good.”
It was late at night [laughs] so I stood there and I wound up like a baseball player. Pretty much right where he was at, I hit it with the sledge end and the whole axe went right through the wall [RH laughs] to the point where the light that had shown from the inside of the CHU showed on the outside. So of course I ran off with it. Twenty minutes later he came in red in the face, so pissed off and I was just laughing so hard. He said, “You know, I really thought that was a mortar and I fell out of bed so hard my knees hurt and I can’t even walk.” And he was genuinely pissed. He knew that he couldn’t really be too mad. That morning they did an inspection of our CHUs because we were leaving. It was our very last night and, of course, the guy doing the inspection looked at this hole in the wall saying, “What the heck happened here?” The Major was just looking at me shaking his head. That was pretty funny for our very last night.
RH: Nice. What was it like coming back to the US?
MH: It was actually just an incredible feeling. I was able to call my family. We landed in Shannon, Ireland and I was able to make a phone call to say, “Hey, we’re here. We’re leaving at this time and we’re going to be landing at McGuire Air Force Base at this time.” I wanted to make sure my wife and family knew as well as my father. It was just a great feeling, a fantastic feeling to think that it was almost over at that point.
RH: Did they come to meet you at the airport?
MH: We landed at McGuire Air Force Base and then they bussed us over to Fort Dix which is a joint compound. It’s only a five minute bus ride and they had a big – I don’t want to say a cafeteria – it was a big room where they had all the families waiting for the returning soldiers. Once we turned in our weapons that night – because we still had our weapons with us 24/7 – we turned in our weapons and they said, “Alright. We’re giving you guys a four day pass,” which was really nice. We didn’t even have to spend the night there at Fort Dix. We got to come home for four days.
RH: Very cool. What was the best and the worst part about coming home?
MH: The best part clearly would be coming home to be with your family, seeing my house that was renovated. When I left the house was being renovated and now I came home the house was completed so it was nice being able to come home and seeing the house completely redone. I can’t think of any bad parts of it – I think eventually the thought of having to go back to work full-time. I think, again, I was really fortunate that during the time that I was away from the police department I still accrued my vacation time. I was released from active duty in December of 2005 but I didn’t have to go back to work until February of ’06 in the police department.
RH: How were you received when you got back to the police department?
MH: It was definitely very supportive. I would say prior to me going to Iraq, the overall consensus was definitely not favorable. At that point being a twenty-five man police department, I was the only military person so a lot of guys looked at it in somewhat of a jealous way in that why does Hafke get to go away for two weeks of annual training and we have to give him time off with pay and he still gets to go on vacation? There was definitely a certain amount of jealousy prior to Iraq but after that I never heard any negativity towards it. I think most people realized, man, that was a sacrifice most people wouldn’t be willing to make, being away from your family for such a long period of time.
RH: Good to go. Alright, let’s see. How did your family respond to the deployment?
MH: Everybody was very supportive. My wife and children, they understood it. I think my youngest son probably is the one that never fully accepted it. I think he really didn’t want me to go and, to this day, I don’t think that my relationship has ever fully been what it was prior to leaving for Iraq so if there is any one negative thing, I would definitely say that it was my relationship with my youngest son that never seemed to have been what it was prior to me leaving.
RH: Do you still keep in touch with some of the US soldiers that you served with?
MH: Yes – mainly on facebook. I was in the Jersey Guard until I retired in 2012 but I don’t really see any of them because I don’t live near them but on facebook I still maintain contact.
RH: Hopefully you can answer this question. Did any of them change at all after they got back?
MH: A lot of them got out. Some stayed in. Some are still active with the National Guard. I think some that I’ve seen became anti-war. They questioned the whole reason why we were in Iraq. I’ve never questioned President Bush. A lot of people put the blame on him saying it was all about oil but I’ve always felt that, as military, it was your responsibility to answer your call of duty.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Since you were in the Reserves and the Guard you didn’t quite get out but since deploying, how has your military experience shaped your life?
MH: I think a lot of people that I’ve met are very receptive and inquisitive as far as what life was like in Iraq and what it was like being away from home and just being exposed to such a different culture. For me it was. It was just an entirely different culture and unlike a lot of the military that’s over there, they really don’t get an opportunity to travel around the country where we did. We would go out to some of the small villages on Saturdays and pass out school supplies because these were people that live in mud huts. I never saw glass windows. They had screens or sheet metal or curtains that would hang over their windows and I never saw glass windows so they were very poor. All their housing was mud huts that I saw in northern Iraq. I never saw anything but. So it was just, for me, an incredible experience to see that and to show people pictures of it. And for them to see it firsthand and to hear the stories, they find it interesting.
RH: You know, I’m going to backtrack a little bit because there is one question that I did forget to ask and you brought up a good point. What were your interactions with the Iraqi civilians like?
MH: We didn’t meet them a lot only other than going to some of the smaller villages. They were extremely protective of the women. They did not want us to have any interaction with them. Their culture over there, the women sat in the back seat of the car. The men would walk ten, fifteen feet in front of the women. The men would hold hands walking and talking so we really didn’t have much of anything with the women. Even with the Iraqis, because of our mission it was almost entirely the military personnel.
When I was at the Tuz Iraqi Army compound, it was almost like an old cavalry post. It was in a downtown area and it had four walls and each corner had a tower. Sometimes I would go up and keep company with some of the Iraqis that were in tower duty just to look around and get a different perspective. If there were little kids they were with their moms and they would immediately recognize me as an American because of the uniforms. Now the Iraqis, they used what were called the chocolate chip uniforms which were used during Desert Storm. When I was there in ’04/’05 we had the DCUs which is the Desert Camouflage Uniform. It was a lighter uniform so I would always knew to bring some candy or something if I was going to make a point of going up in the towers. Whether it was tennis balls or some kind of a toy or candy, I would always bring it up there with me because the kids would inevitably recognize an American. I think Americans, the soldiers would very giving. We would always give stuff to the kids. Even at that point the kids would come running up asking for things and the moms would pretty much stand back on the corner and just keep track of the kids. It’s not like they ever acknowledged us or waved thank you. They pretty much just kept their heads down.
RH: I have a couple of questions about Iraq’s current state. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
MH: That’s tough. That’s a tough question. It obviously makes me really sad to see that ISIS has taken such a stronghold in Iraq. Honestly, I don’t have an answer to it as far as a solution. I hate to say bring American forces back because I would personally like to see them be able to police and govern themselves. My feeling is I hate to see the United States as the world’s policeman. I think having a mission like I did as a trainer, that I find acceptable but during the time when we were in Iraq and they had US soldiers doing raids and kicking down doors and working traffic control points, you’re more susceptible to being killed. I hate to see US soldiers making that kind of sacrifice. I think that they clearly have the manpower to govern and police themselves but it’s just a matter of getting them in the right mind frame and properly equipped. That’s another aspect.
RH: While you were over there and you were working with the Iraqis, hindsight’s 20/20 of course but could you have foreseen some of the weaknesses in the Iraqi Army after we left or was that kind of a shock?
MH: It’s tough to say. I don’t ever want to seem like I’m bad mouthing them but, again, by far I think their biggest weakness I saw was the discipline and the lack thereof of some people. Of course some Iraqis were disciplined and they really wanted to emulate the US military. They wanted to wear anything that symbolized the American Army because they definitely looked up to us. They saw us as definitely a superior force, there’s no question about that.
It’s tough to say. I mean, I don’t have an answer as to why there are so many radicals that seem to grow in that area of the world and my personal experience is that there were just so many good Iraqis – guys that if I felt tired during the day, not that my Colonel would have allowed it, if I wanted to go take a nap in one of the little rooms there were Iraqi guys that I had no problem taking a nap on their bunk and sleeping there with my weapon. If somebody was looking for me they would come get me and say, “Hey Hafke, wake up. They’re looking for you.” So they were overall just great guys. It was just hard to believe that with so many simple-minded people – all they ever talked about was family – that there could be so much violence going on. But again, just like I said earlier, there were two suicide bombers. Both of them were from Sudan so a lot of these were not even Iraqis. They were Muslims from other countries that were recruited that would just come there and cause destruction.
RH: Alright. Good to go. I have a couple of spiritual questions for you now. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
MH: When I was at FOB Bernstein I was there for four months and it was the Tennessee Army National Guard guys. They were fantastic, including the Chaplain. The Chaplain was truly a man of God. At night he would have what he used to call family movie night. He would have the soldiers come in and he would make popcorn and put a G rated movie on and just really fellowship. It was all guys and he would always start off by a prayer together and end with a prayer. Just truly a man of God. The Chaplain that deployed with my unit, I just never felt a spiritual type of guidance or influence from. I just felt that she was more of an officer than she was a chaplain or somebody to bring you closer to God. Maybe other people felt differently.
But I’d always been strong in my faith and one of the promises that I made to myself was that every day I would read a chapter in the Bible and I did do that. I always felt that keeping a close relationship with God in my life that would help pass the time. At night I would go take a shower and look up at the stars and say a prayer and think, “Wow. One more night closer to being home.” It seemed like pretty soon it was like flipping the pages of a book between my fingers that it was like, “Wow. It was twenty-four hours ago that I was saying a prayer thanking God.” It was another day in the past and then it seemed like every five minutes. “Wow. Another day passed. Another month passed. Another month has passed.” Pretty soon twelve months had passed and I was back home again. Not seeing your family for such a long period of time, especially when your kids were grown, was definitely a tough thing to get used to. I know that one time I called home and my son answered and I thought it was my older son but actually it was my younger son. He corrected me and that actually made me really upset to think, “Wow. I’ve been gone so long that I didn’t even recognize which son’s voice it was.” That was one time that it actually made me really sad.
RH: Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
MH: I would say yes but I’ve never taken life for granted. In my law enforcement career I’d seen, unfortunately, many fatalities through mainly motor vehicle accidents – that and industrial accidents – so I’d never taken life for granted. With age comes wisdom and the older you get, the more careful you are. Unlike your typical eighteen year-old male that would do anything your Drill Sergeant tells you to do, you get older and you think, “Wait a minute. That doesn’t sound too safe.” You might have to think twice about that but I mainly just never have taken life for granted.
RH: Alright. Good to go. We’re going to switch it up just a little bit. This is going to be a two part question for you as a matter of fact. What’s your happiest memory of the entire time you served and what’s your happiest memory of your time on deployment?
MH: Man, that’s tough. Happiest time, it would probably be either coming home for good or coming home for my R&R after nine months. One of those times because when I came home from R&R my family met me at Newark airport. Seeing them that time after not seeing them for nine months was incredible as well as coming back at Fort Dix. I still had one month of demobilization left but they were both incredibly happy moments in my military career.
I don’t know. Overall in the military it would be hard to say. I had a lot of good times. I don’t know if anything can stand out besides the two that I mention – coming back from Iraq each time with seeing my family again.
RH: Here’s a question for you. You started boot camp in 1986. What were some of the big differences you found between the Army in 1986 versus 2004?
MH: Well, in 2004 I was a Staff Sergeant so you had a little bit more privilege with the rank but when we mobilized in 2006, it was as if it was going through basic training again the way they treated us. I tell you, I think it was easier to go through basic training in 1986 than it was mobilizing for six months because of the way we were treated. We literally had PT five days a week at 4:30 in the morning and we weren’t allowed to go anywhere. You weren’t allowed to have your POV with you. You were treated as a Private and at this point I had been in the military for eighteen years already and to be treated like a Private again after so much time, it was very hard getting used to. There were some people that joined our unit that had just come right out of training so they were eighteen, nineteen years old and they didn’t know any better. But I think for a lot of us that were in the military for a while and all of a sudden now being told that you can’t leave base, you couldn’t have a beer if you wanted to, you were prohibited from having any alcohol and basically being treated like a Private, it was very hard to get used to. Mentally it was very hard and it made you somewhat resentful to think, “What the heck is this?” My feeling was give us a little downtime but I guess they were worried downtime meant people were going to make bad decisions and get themselves hurt or in trouble.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Toughest question of the entire interview. What was the best MRE?
MH: [laughs] Man. Probably meatballs in barbeque sauce. I liked that one. By the time I came into the National Guard in ’98, the MREs had made a huge improvement from when I came in in ’86. I think that if anything in the military, MREs were by far the biggest improvement.
I remember the first MRE that I ever had. It was beef patty, comma, dehydrated. [RH laughs] I didn’t even know what the hell to do with it. We were on a road march in basic. Our Drill Sergeants didn’t even really tell us anything. I just remember having the hardest time opening it because it didn’t have that little egg tooth in the front where you could pull them apart. It took us like fifteen minutes to open up the MRE because it was such heavy duty plastic and we weren’t allowed to have knives. Anyway, I pulled out this thing called beef patty dehydrated. I put water in my canteen and this is February of ’86, or January of ’86, down in Alabama and it was cold out. It said to let it soak in there. I put it in there and it could only fit a partial amount in my canteen cup and even after fifteen minutes when I took a bite of it, the outside was soggy and the inside was like a snap. And it was absolutely disgusting. The same thing. Everything in the MRE at that point used to be dehydrated like strawberries dehydrated. No matter how long it seemed you put them in water, they never hydrated themselves where, once the late ‘00s and 2000s came along, they had heater packs in there with it. It just was outstanding. They actually tasted good. You actually could have a hot meal with it and they had tabasco sauce in there. They actually had a lot of good ones, especially the chicken meals. I liked a lot of the chicken meals that they had.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Two part question. What was the best DFAC in the US and the best DFAC in Iraq?
MH: During my time in Iraq both at Speicher and at Ramagan, the chow halls there were unbelievable. They had surf and turf almost every day. They had crab legs. If I wanted to go in and say I wanted to have a twelve egg white omelette, they would do it no problem. They did whatever you wanted. So those two chow halls were literally like a five star hotel. There were Red Bulls in the refrigerator. You could pack your cargo pockets with ten of them if you wanted. You could just take whatever you wanted – cookies. It was definitely not the place to be if you had a weight problem because guys definitely would be putting on weight.
In the States, hands down at Fort Lee Virginia. I spent quite a bit of time there once I changed my MOS to Supply because that’s where the Supply school was. About four or five times I’ve been to training at Fort Lee and because we were all NCOs, we ate at the officer’s club. We were allowed to do that three meals a day. We ate at the officer’s club and we were being served by waitresses and it was the same thing. You had T-bone steaks, you had crab legs, and I just couldn’t believe that they were serving that kind of meal in the US to service members for a period of several years. No other chow hall measured up to Fort Lee, the officer’s club.
RH: Nice. Good to go. What are some of the funny stories you have?
MH: Let’s see. I would always like working with the Iraqis. I loved playing jokes with them and we would tell funny stories. Through the use of our translator Imad, they would always have a strong interest in how you meet women in America. That was always their biggest curiosity. They would think that you could just walk up to a woman and say, “OK. Come home with me,” and they would have to listen. We would tell funny stories about my own individual times of being single and meeting women or friends of mine’s stories that had met women and they just found a fascination with that.
Or just playing practical jokes with some of the Iraqis. I would bring ChapStick in. I used a lot of ChapStick because it was so hot over there and what I would do, I would go up to one of the Iraqis and I would tell Imad to tell them that the ChapStick was for their eyebrows. [RH laughs] So they would go put it on their eyebrows and of course they would realize that something doesn’t seem right. They would have Vaseline on their eyebrows and then Imad would tell them, “No. Actually, it’s for lips.” Then of course this Iraqi whoever I did it to, he didn’t want to be the butt of a joke so he would take me to one of his friends and then so do the same thing again. It was like, “OK. Tell Rich it’s for your eyebrows.” Now Rich would do it and then of course now this guy that had it done now he could laugh. He didn’t want to be the butt of a joke. So that was like a daily occurrence. I would go around with the ChapStick and put it on their eyebrows.
Or I used to get fly poison. I don’t know if you had it over there but we used to get these bottles of fly poison. It was almost about the same size and shape as that [points to a beer bottle beside me] and it was blue crystals. When I was over there in our area, the flies were so bad because there was just garbage in the streets and on the sides of the road. It was like a biblical plague proportion of flies. You couldn’t eat without flies being in your face and on your food. You were just constantly waving. But you had this fly bait and what it was were these blue crystals and you were supposed to sprinkle them on a plate and it smelled like rotting meat. It was just disgusting. So you would sprinkle some of the blue crystals on a plate and within five minutes you couldn’t see the blue crystals. It was just completely covered in dead flies. It would just kill thousands of them.
What I would do is I would walk around with this container of fly bait, I would stand behind an Iraqi and I would slowly lift the lid and I would blow it towards their face so of course now you got the reaction. [RH laughs] They would smell this rotting meat. Of course, they didn’t want to be the butt of a joke so they had me go do it to their friends and pretty soon I had a large following of Iraqis pointing out who is the next victim. [RH laughs] Just seeing their facial reactions once they smelled this nasty, rotting meat smell.
RH: Right on. Any more?
MH: Let’s see. There was another time that I was at FOB Dagger and I was on top of the palace. I looked down. While we trained the Iraqis, the gunner was from an MP company out of Puerto Rico. These guys, even though they were in the US military, English was clearly a second language for all these guys. Even though they had the US Army uniform on and they were MPs, we could barely understand these guys because they were so entirely Spanish-speaking. When we would train with the Iraqis, the gunners would guard our Humvees. That was their job. They would be in the turret during our convoy each way and then they would sit and sleep in the Humvees.
So when I was up on top of the palace, I had my liter bottle of Hayat water and I was standing there. Well, when I looked over I saw the Puerto Rican guy sleeping in my Humvee. He was in the driver’s seat and I saw his feet up on the windshield. I also noticed a group of about five Jundis, the Privates, from my work section that happened to be walking by. I saw them innocently walking along to go to another building to get something. I took my water bottle and I hurled it off the roof. It twirled down and it landed just where I wanted it to, right on the hood of my Humvee, and then it exploded. Well, I could see this Puerto Rican guy jump. I could see his legs kicking and all the Iraqi guys stop and they were looking like they had no idea what happened. This guy jumped out and he’s screaming and yelling at them in Spanish [RH laughs] and they all had this bewildered look like, “I don’t know what happened.” I could see this guy yelling and of course I’m on top laughing. Ten or fifteen minutes later I went back down to the office and I saw all these Iraqi Jundis and I could see that they were still perplexed like, “What happened?” The Arabic word for water is mai. So I went down there and I saw them and said, “Mai?” [makes an exploding sound] As soon as I said that they realized it was me [RH laughs] and they just laughed for five minutes straight realizing that’s what happened. You did it!
RH: Right on. Last couple of questions. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average American might have about the conflict?
MH: The way I see it and from what I hear, I think most Americans think that, at least the war in Iraq, is strictly over oil. What I feel that Americans don’t remember is that when Saddam signed the peace treaty with the United Nations back in 1991, he allowed to have UN weapons inspectors coming into the country all the time. It was in 1998, and I remember that vividly, that Saddam threw all the United Nations weapons inspectors out of the country saying, “You’re no longer welcome here.” The United Nations was like, “You can’t do that. You signed this treaty.” And he said, “Too bad.” So from 1998 until 2003 the United Nations and the United States really didn’t have any idea what was going on. I am a firm believer that the intelligence that Washington and George Bush received is that there was the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction because, again, why would Saddam have kicked out the United Nations weapons inspectors? So for five years they really didn’t have an accurate clue of what was going on. When people always bring up that it was entirely about oil and that Saddam never attacked the US, I say he pretty much controlled his own destiny. He was the one that violated his own peace treaty that he signed for. But again, that’s just my own feeling as far as defending the United States getting involved with the Iraq war.
RH: Alright. Good to go. If you could communicate something to young soldiers who will be fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
MH: Just get all the training that you can possibly receive. Remember to be safe and be smart and don’t try to be the hero that you don’t have to be. Just using common sense, I think, is what pretty much has guided me through my entire life both through the military and law enforcement. Just using common sense with issues. Just get your proper rest, think straight. I think myself, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with is sleep deprivation. I know when you don’t get proper rest, you don’t make the right decisions. You don’t think clearly. You might be making the wrong decisions that you normally wouldn’t have made and that’s pretty much it. Find a leader that you trust and respect and follow their advice.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Here’s a question for you that’s unique. How did your military career inform your law enforcement career and vice versa?
MH: I think my law enforcement career, that followed up three years after my military career had started. I think the physical fitness part of it as far as being disciplined and respectful, that made life very easy for me and came second nature where I think some guys that I saw in law enforcement, they just didn’t have the manner and respect that a lot of guys in the military might get. It was pretty much beaten into you during your basic training time where you’re told what to do. You don’t cut corners by walking across the grass, you stay on the sidewalk type of thing. I think a lot of it just comes with the military discipline that followed through and it’s always been there my entire life. Just be respectful to others.
Being in this area of the country it’s predominantly white. It’s like ninety-eight percent white, probably, in this area but in the military there’s a lot more minorities. Getting the opportunities to work with minorities has really broadened my horizons than staying in Hunterdon County where it’s mainly white people that you were exposed to. Working with Hispanic, black, Asian and just having a good working relationship. If I wasn’t in the military I would probably have never had the opportunity to say that I got to work with a black guy or a Hispanic guy or anything like that. It’s definitely opened up my eyes and just life experiences to working with others besides just another white guy.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before I ask my last question, is there anything I left out that you would like to address?
MH: I can’t think of anything to be honest. I think you pretty much covered everything.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So – and this could be during your entire service – what specific accomplishment are you most proud of during your service?
MH: Probably just staying to retirement. When I first joined I was pretty optimistic as far my military career – what I would and wouldn’t want to do as far as making it a career. After being on active duty in the Army, I saw MP wasn’t all law enforcement as I would have hoped it would have been. I really enjoyed the law enforcement aspect and playing the infantry grunt, living in a tent, wasn’t that. Once I did get off active duty, I really didn’t think that I would have stayed with it but I did miss the camaraderie of the military. I stayed with the Reserves and then I started thinking about the long-term benefits as far as staying with the military and getting a military pension as well as the many benefits that come along with the military.
I think, if anything, I’m probably most proud that I actually stayed twenty-six years and I have my retired ID card. It gets me discounts on transportation. I can stay at resorts all over the world that they offer for military members at a discounted rate. Every time I look at my ID card and I look at the expiration date and it says “indefinite,” it makes me really proud to think, “Wow. You know what? I earned this.” It wasn’t something that was just handed to me. Twenty-six years of my life was spent doing the military, reenlisting all those years and I’m glad that I did it. I’m glad that it’s over. I can’t say that I miss it.
What I enjoy now is I’m part of a veteran’s group and I’m by far the youngest person there. It’s not that I’m a young person but we have a lot of guys that are World War II veterans that are in their nineties, Korean War vets and Vietnam vets. It’s just nice to sit around and tell different stories about our different experiences. Of course there’s always the friendly camaraderie – which service is better and who’s the worst. But it’s all in fun. Overall it’s just a really good group of guys and had I not served in the military, I would never be able to understand what they went through or different assignments that guys had. It’s really interesting to meet other people from all walks of life and hear their stories about what made them choose this branch or hear about life in World War II when they’re fighting in Europe and their only means of communication is a letter that might get there a month or two later. So it makes me appreciate to think that me only having one phone call a month home wasn’t that bad of a deal when I could still send e-mails and things like that that would get there immediately.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Anything else?
MH: No. That would be it, Rich.
RH: Alright. Well, thank you!
MH: Thank you!