Jeff Van Havel tells of Iraq experiences

Written by David Green.

Did you shoot rubber bullets?

By DAVID GREEN

Most of the time when Jeff Van Havel goes to work, he pilots a 727 airliner fitted for cargo delivery for United Parcel Service.

“It’s overnight delivery for UPS,” he told Morenci’s first grade students last Thursday morning. “We fly packages all night long.”

van-havel-visiting But every now and then, he gets a call from the U.S. Air Force and then he’s flying a  totally different aircraft with an entirely new mission.

That’s what happened a few weeks ago when Major Van Havel was called to duty in the Middle East.

“My friends and I were almost on the other side of the world,” he said. “We shot and bombed the Iraqi army most every day for two months.”

“Did you shoot rubber bullets?” asked a first grader.

It was the real thing, he explained. They fired depleted uranium bullets.

“Did they shoot at you?” a student wondered.

“I think I got shot at more than anyone in my squadron,” he answered. “There were four missiles shot at me and hundreds of rounds of bullets.”

However, it was two other members of his group that were shot down. Neither of the pilots was injured.

“Who won?” a student asks.

“Military, we won,” answered the guest. “The hard part is to make peace after the war. Did we win the fight and get what we wanted? It will take years to know.”

“Did you go to bed in Iraq?”

Major Van Havel explained that most of his flights were out of Kuwait, but for 10 days he lived at a captured air base in Iraq.

“It was dry and dirty. There was no running water, no electricity, 100° outside,” he said. “We pretty much lived in tents.”

“Did you have mines?” asked a youngster.

The major explained that as a member of the Air Force, he wasn’t on the ground much, but that wasn’t the case when he fought in Afghanistan. There were still areas not cleared of mines in that country, and some fighting went on quite close to his base.

“How do you take off?” asks a young scientist.

“It’s a matter of physics,” he responded, and attempted to explain the principle of thrust to seven-year-olds.

Someone wanted to know what the world looks like from a jet fighter.

“At night,” he said, “it almost looks like a giant black and white map,” as streets and cities are illuminated.

Special goggles are worn to assist night vision, and pilots often use binoculars to home in on targets. Otherwise, they have to fly low and risk attack from the ground.

van-havel-reading Van Havel said he called home most every day to talk with his wife, Teresa, and his three children—first, by using his cell phone, and later, through the military phone system once it was put back into operation after the early days of the battle.

Major Van Havel was introduced to a first grade student named Justice Richardson, whose father is about to be called to duty.

“I know you’re going to miss him,” Van Havel said, “but you should be really proud of him.”

Van Havel looked at the cards made by students and he said how much cards and letters mean to a soldier stationed away from home.

He wrapped up his visit by telling the students what he expected from them in the future.

“We live in a rich, free country where we can speak our minds,” he said, “but it doesn’t mean it will always stay that way. Some day it will be your responsibility. When I’m an old man, I want you guys to protect me.”


- May 28, 2003

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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