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.bridge Cross
    STEP BY STEP—Wyatt Stevens of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge Sunday during the Michigan DNR’s Great Outdoors Jamboree at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The Tecumseh Boy Scout Troop constructed the bridge again this year after taking a break in 2016. The Jamboree offered a variety of activities for a wide range of age groups. Morenci’s Stair District Library set up activities again this year and had visits with dozens of kids. See the back page for additional photos.
  • Front.bridge.17
    LEADING THE WAY—The Morenci Area High School marching band led the way across the pedestrian bridge on Morenci’s south side for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. The Band Boosters shared profits from the sale of T-shirts with the walk’s sponsor, the Morenci Area Chamber of Commerce. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.eclipse
    LOOKING UP—More than 200 people showed up at Stair District Library Monday afternoon to view the big celestial event with free glasses provided by a grant from the Space Science Institute. The library offered craft activities from noon to 1 p.m., refreshments including Cosmic Cake from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and a live viewing of the eclipse from NASA on a large screen. As the sky darkened slightly, more and more people moved outside to the sidewalk to take a look at the shrinking sun. If you missed it, hang on for the next total eclipse in 2024 as the path comes even closer to this area.
  • Cecil
    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
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