G.I. Jerk

Phil Haberman claims he fought with special forces in Iraq, but he's about as real as Rambo

Sarah Kenney: A woman in Grand Junction, Colorado, called a radio station in August 2004 using the name Amber Kenney, saying she was a National Guard soldier leaving for basic training and that her husband Jonathan was already fighting in Iraq. Kenney called in frequently with many details about their lives. In February 2005, Kenney contacted the media to say that her husband had been killed leaping in front of a bullet to save an Iraqi child. After an organization called Hometown Heroes sent a fax confirming the death, news outlets ran the story. But an investigation by a local newspaper revealed that Kenney's name was Sarah, not Amber. She'd never served in the National Guard, nor had her husband Michael, who was alive and managing a fast-food restaurant. Confronted, Kenney said, "I feel like an ass." She pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation and received probation.

James D. Johnson: For years, North Carolina resident Johnson, now 49, told of his exploits as a Navy SEAL. After 9/11, Johnson told one woman who'd known him for 26 years that he'd been called to active duty in Iraq and asked her to marry him when he returned from combat. According to The Charlotte Observer, Johnson paid her a surprise visit in 2003 wearing camouflage and dusty combat boots, saying he was on leave from Iraq. Then the girlfriend discovered Johnson was romancing other women with his tales of derring-do. The newspaper found that Johnson was an insurance adjuster who had served in the Navy during the '70s as a petty officer; he'd never been a SEAL.

Some wannabes use their status as veterans to garner sympathy, to get ahead in their careers or to manipulate their loved ones. Other phonies go to extremes such as forging documents to lay claim to combat decorations and veterans' benefits they haven't earned.

Jake, a Dogo Argentino, made the rounds, eliciting sympathy--and money and affection--from a string of women who fell for Haberman.
Jake, a Dogo Argentino, made the rounds, eliciting sympathy--and money and affection--from a string of women who fell for Haberman.
Haberman claimed he had designed a special mask for paratroopers. Here, he poses next to a mannequin at the Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C.
Haberman claimed he had designed a special mask for paratroopers. Here, he poses next to a mannequin at the Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C.

The Observer found that Phil Haberman's military claims are just one facet of a life lived in fantasy and deception.

Love Me, Love My Dog

Rhoad wonders if she would have been as supportive of Haberman if it weren't for Jake. Rhoad loved dogs; she owned purebred Akitas.

After their first lunch, Haberman explained that a friend had given him a fresh-caught tuna and invited himself over to cook dinner for Rhoad and her daughter. But after the meal, Haberman got a phone call that Rhoad could tell was from an angry female. He explained that she'd been keeping Jake but was fed up with the dog and had taken him to the pound.

The next morning Rhoad went with Haberman to rescue Jake. Seeing cuts and scrapes on the animal, Haberman "totally freaked out," Rhoad says. Though he didn't have proof of immunizations, Haberman insisted Jake was a military dog and threatened to sue the shelter because the animal was injured. The shelter released the dog and apologized to Haberman.

Within days, Haberman had shifted gear--dog, duffel bag and white Mustang convertible--to Rhoad's townhouse. He seemed like a career soldier. Most of his clothes were military issue or shirts that said Special Forces. He sported a large tattoo of a Marine bulldog on his right arm. Other screen names he used included ForceReconMarine and usmcdog4u. She later found out he was an E-4 (Specialist, a grade higher than Private First Class).

Haberman never seemed to have any money, because the military "had messed up his pay," but he had dreams. A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Haberman had walk-on roles in the TV show JAG and movies such as High Crimes and Scorpion King. His résumé listed "11 years Marine reconnaissance" and experience as a "combat tactical expert," "in-water trauma medic" and "weapons specialist."

Another undertaking was more outrageous: woodyreview.com, where a clothed Haberman, sporting an erection, posed as "Woody Hunter"--promoting reviews of porn sites. (Haberman says "Woody Hunter" was just a photo gig.)

Haberman's biggest project, however, was going to make him a fortune. He'd redesigned a Gentex oxygen mask/helmet for Special Operations paratroopers who did "high-altitude/low opening" jumps. Already, one branch of the military had placed orders for 10,000 of the masks, and Haberman would make 3 percent profit on sales.

One day Haberman and Rhoad drove to the naval base at China Lake, California, where he presented the mask to some highly skilled jumpers. That night, the military personnel took Haberman and Rhoad out for dinner. She was impressed, though Haberman insisted anyone he married would have to sign a prenuptial agreement that any profits were his separate property.

Rhoad had hoped Haberman would be a positive influence for Heather, whose father hadn't been involved in her life. But Heather hated the soldier, who thought she was an undisciplined brat. At Haberman's insistence, Rhoad sent Heather to a girls' camp, then to a relative's home. She wanted to give the relationship with Haberman a chance.

Everything seemed to be going well until their wedding day, when he left for several months of training at Fort Bragg. "I gave him $300 from my unemployment, packed him a lunch, and he was gone," Rhoad says.

He called 24 hours later to say he was staying in Texas with a female friend--and could she send him more money? That's when Rhoad started having second thoughts. She'd found his communications with other women on her computer. When she flew to Fort Bragg to get her military dependent's ID card on January 17, Haberman's birthday, they fought over her suspicions that he was already cheating on her.

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