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.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
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  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
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  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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