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.”
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 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