G.I. Jerk

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

According to his Marine record, Haberman served from June 19, 1990, to October 2, 1991, receiving a general, "other than honorable" discharge as a private after 15 months of service. A note in the record says that he was released for misconduct and minor disciplinary actions and that his problems stemmed from "gross immaturity in dealing with the realities of adult situations." ("I was an immature punk," Haberman says. Since then, he adds, he's "grown up.") Haberman had no special operations training during his stint in the Marines.

Long after his time in the Marines ended, Haberman continued to sport the uniform, even wearing it on a TV game show. (His current head shot for acting gigs shows Haberman in a Marine uniform adorned with awards he didn't receive.) Haberman hopped around the country but rarely seemed to have a full-time job. He began telling his family he worked undercover for the DEA, but they viewed his stories with increasing skepticism.

"I've felt like since Desert Storm, the lies have gotten more and more ridiculous," Adam says. After Phil began telling people that he'd been abused as a child, the family wanted less and less to do with him. Adam denies Phil was ever a victim of child abuse. "My parents did everything for him." Adam, however, says he's tried to keep communications with Phil open because he believes his brother needs psychological help.

Phil Haberman attended a court hearing in Las Vegas on August 3, 2005. His beret features the crest of Special Forces.
Phil Haberman attended a court hearing in Las Vegas on August 3, 2005. His beret features the crest of Special Forces.
Kristen Rhoad with daughter Heather.
Kristen Rhoad with daughter Heather.

In 2000 or 2001, Adam was living in Baltimore, pursuing a Ph.D. in cell biology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, when he got a call from his brother. Phil was getting married in Colorado in a few weeks and wanted Adam to attend the wedding. His fiancée was a flight attendant and could get Adam a free ticket.

Adam agreed to go, but the next week Phil called again to say his fiancée had died of cancer. In succeeding calls the story grew even more outlandish: His fiancée wasn't dead after all; one of his relatives had lied to him. She'd inherited $665 million, but he needed money to fly to see her because she was being prevented from spending any of her inheritance.

The last time he saw Phil in person, Adam says, was two or three years ago in Baltimore. Phil brought out a picture of himself with about 100 Army troops and said he'd joined the Army Reserve.

Because of his "other than honorable" discharge from the Marines, Haberman had to obtain a waiver to join the Army Reserve. He served in the Nevada National Guard from August 12 to October 8, 2002, and then apparently transferred to the California guard.

"He said he was on medical leave because he got slapped upside a helicopter," Adam says. "But he looked perfectly fine. He didn't complain about any injuries." (Phil says he sustained a concussion.) At some point, he transferred to the Utah National Guard, where there was a Special Forces unit. A source with the UNG said that Phil started but didn't finish their Special Forces Qualification training.

Though he rarely saw his family, Haberman often returned to RHS to visit his old journalism teacher. After she retired, he formed a friendship in 2000 with the new teacher, Robin Johnson, dropping by at least once a year. Johnson, who no longer works for RHS, couldn't be reached for comment, but in an e-mail to Rhoad, she described her experience with Haberman.

In January 2004, Haberman stopped by, explained he was shipping off to Iraq and proposed sending back photos and letters so they could publish them in the school newspaper. The stories he sent from March through May are well-written but florid and self-aggrandizing.

During this period Haberman would sometimes call Johnson three or four times a day. In April, he asked the class to collect items for him and "the guys" in Iraq. Soon the whole school was involved, with teachers giving extra credit to kids who participated.

In early May, Haberman returned and told the class about his injury under fire. On a second trip, without asking the teacher's or school's permission, he called Channel 8 News to come to the school. He told reporter Bill Brown he was with Special Forces but didn't want that in the story "for security reasons."

Though he loves his brother, Adam thought the students deserved the truth. So he called Brown and told him he didn't believe Phil was in the Army Special Forces or that he'd been injured in Iraq. (The interview never aired; Brown left WFAA without being able to finish his research into Haberman's military record.)

Adam was surprised to learn that Phil really had joined the reserve, then had been called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. As a Marine during the first Gulf War, Phil got respect as a warrior. After 9/11, he went looking for that same respect in the Army Reserve, jumping from guard unit to guard unit, determined to get to the war. But in volunteering for Iraq, Phil got more than he bargained for.

War Sucks

On March 7, 2004, Haberman sent his first story to the school newspaper about "Validation" training at Fort Bragg. He described himself as a member of the 19th Special Forces Group with the U.S. Army, attached to the 30th Enhanced Separate Brigade, a support group out of the North Carolina National Guard, on a 12- to 16-month rotation "into the heart of Iraq and the Sunni Triangle."

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