By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I traded in my now familiar Special Forces arrowhead with Airborne tab for the 30th ESB patch," he said about donning his new desert fatigues.
Haberman outlines his military jobs as "weapons specialist, communications specialist, infantry soldier, and Airborne Paratrooper," but concedes "the job I do is not glamorous. It is required...I volunteered for combat duty knowing full well the inherent risks associated with it. I love what I do and would not trade it for the world." But privately he complained to Rhoad that he was loading pallets, a job he considered far below his qualifications. Then his unit deployed without him.
On March 16, he e-mailed Rhoad that he was in Frankfurt waiting for a flight to Kuwait. His next missive to the high school came from Iraq. Reading between the lines of his stories, it is clear Haberman was a marginal soldier at best. While his unit deployed to Balad, he was left behind for five days to palletize gear. Haberman turned that into an asset.
"This was the one time that knowing how to pack a flight cargo load to USAF standards was paying off," Haberman wrote. "Out of the 264 of us there, I was the only one that knew how to do it."
Five days later he finally reached FOB (Forward Operating Base) Caldwell in Northern Iraq. He described sleeping in a tent with a wooden floor and no running water in the 120-degree heat. They had no laundry facilities, and everyone stank. All of them were required to be in body armor and Kevlar helmets everywhere they went--a reminder that all American troops, no matter what their jobs, are at risk in Iraq.
"This place SUCKS!!!!!!!" Haberman e-mailed Rhoad on March 23. "No one wants me in their units. NO one wanted me to even come here. So they are making life as miserable for me as possible until they can find something to do with me...We don't have power here, a chow hall, exchange, running water, and only 10 port a johns for 1,300 people. I hate it here for now."
A few days later, Haberman e-mailed Rhoad, "I'm getting fucked over so badly here it isn't even funny. They took my ammo from me and put me with the cooks. I'm desperately trying to get out of the 120th and go to the 113th. Someone shattered my box top [his personal trunk] and poured dirt and rocks into the box...So life is sucking HARD for me..."
He blamed Rhoad's complaints for his being unable to take leave--though he'd only been there a few days. Still, he kept up the correspondence. "I need Gatorade powder BADLY here," he e-mailed Rhoad. "I had to go to Medical yesterday to get fluids via IV. I had a 22 hour work day yesterday on KP. I put in transfer requests with other units and am waiting to hear back today who will take me."
Haberman called Rhoad four times from Iraq, complaining that they wouldn't let him do "his job" as a sniper and had lost his scuba gear, which he needed to work as a "body dredger" in the Tigris River. One call came from a tent where a webcam was set up so families could see their soldiers as they talked. "He looked scared to death," Rhoad says. "He said he was sleeping in dirt, dug-out holes in the ground." Haberman said he was sick of MREs; nothing in Iraq was as he expected.
Haberman's last epistle to the paper was an elaborate story about his combat injury, which occurred on April 9, 2004. "As I sit here in my hospital bed reflecting on everything that has happened over the last few months, I have to say one thing...WAR SUCKS!!!"
He described boarding a convoy that was to take him three hours away to LSA Anaconda "for a routine doctor's appointment" for a "prior diagnosed issue." (A lump in his testicle, Haberman says. A source from the North Carolina National Guard says Haberman was on his way to a psychiatric evaluation.)
"Almost to Camp Anaconda, I heard 'LOOK OUT!!!!!!!' All I know is we hit a pothole or something in the road avoiding what I was told was a rocket propelled grenade that had been launched at us. We hit that bump and I was launched up in the air and came down log style straddling a sandbag between my legs." As his body armor crunched into him, "the pain was immediate and pronounced."
Haberman provided the Observer an affidavit from "Staff Sergeant R.S. Smith" which he obtained a year later in support of his request for a Purple Heart. "Because [rank redacted] Haberman was in so much pain, we made our way to the CSH [the hospital] to have him looked at...When I was outside the tent I saw Haberman coming back from the toilets...he said he was bleeding rectally pretty badly. The next morning Haberman and I were taken to the CSH along with a couple of other soldiers. Haberman was in the ER a lot that day and he told me that they were sending him to Germany to get medical help."