G.I. Jerk

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

Haberman finagled $400 out of a group called Soldier's Angels by complaining that the group's volunteers had run up his cell phone bill. "Between the $400 and the lies, oh my gosh," says Viktoria Carter, Soldier's Angels' former national director, who is married to a Special Forces soldier. Then Haberman turned abusive toward her. "It got to the point where we went and bought me a gun," Carter says.

Other women met Haberman through Match.com or other dating sites. After his return, he updated his "OceanLuvnGuy" profile on Militarysingles.com, checking "single; never been married" and adding: "I was wounded in Iraq and have a lot of free time on my hands now. I'm healing up from my wounds...and am currently with Army Special Forces."

That's how Bonny Bentley met him. "He was complaining, 'no one's come to see me, my family has disowned me,'" says Bentley, a successful 42-year-old woman who lives in Atlanta. Feeling sorry for him, Bentley flew to Fort Bragg in October 2004 for the weekend.

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.

When Haberman picked her up at the airport, he was limping and looked pitiful. "He was very wounded abdominally," Bentley said. "His prostate was torn. He was in bad shape."

But his wounds didn't preclude romance. Bentley ruefully admits she had sex with him.

Though he had a billet in a hotel on base, Haberman lived in a nice house with a pool that he and a female roommate rented in Fayetteville. "He didn't want the military to know he wasn't living on base," Bentley says. As the weekend progressed, Haberman told her he was going through a horrible annulment and was being prosecuted for AWOL because his wife had complained to his commander. Could he borrow $5,000 for attorney's fees?

"I felt sorry for him," Bentley says. "Here's this poor soldier wounded in Iraq, and the military was doing him a great injustice." She wired him the money the next week.

But when Bentley e-mailed Haberman a request to sign a statement saying he would pay the money back, he turned on her in anger, saying she was "just like all the rest." He ended all contact, Bentley says. In early August, Bentley filed a lawsuit against Haberman for fraud. Bentley says, "I can't believe I fell for this shit."

A Purple Heart and More

On operationwoundedsoldier.org, donors can click Paypal and for $30 send a soldier a care package. Based at Fort Stewart, Georgia, the site says more than 2,700 "frontline" soldiers have signed up to be adopted, but Haberman's account of his combat injury is the only personal story posted.

Service members' medical records cannot be released under the Freedom of Information Act. Haberman provided the affidavit from Staff Sergeant R.S. Smith, who described the rocket-propelled grenade being fired at the convoy, the truck swerving and Haberman landing on the sandbags. But he refused to provide the sergeant's full name and location so that the document could be independently verified, or to provide the name of his commanding officer in Iraq. Captain Kevin Clark, his current commanding officer, did not return phone calls.

But doctors' notes Haberman submitted in annulment proceedings indicate his diagnosis was a hernia, anal pain and rectal bleeding. He also complains of damage to his foot and knee. Haberman underwent surgery to correct the hernia on June 19, 2004. A document signed by Dr. Marjory Cannon determines that Haberman's injury was incurred in the line of duty and likely to result in a claim against the government for future medical care.

"As you saw in those documents, the government has determined I'm going to have a permanent partial disability," Haberman says. He claims he was offered medical retirement, giving him a service-connected disability rating of "at least" 30 percent (allowing him to receive 30 percent of his pay for the rest of his life.) But Haberman says he turned it down to stay in the military because "I love what I do."

As he discusses the intricacies of the military disability compensation system, it is clear that there's another reason he's stayed in the military. If Haberman starts the medical board proceedings now, he can't stop them. But the longer he waits, the more disabled he becomes. "Now they have to remove the nerve from my foot," Haberman says. "I could get 50 percent. They could say I'm not going to get anything. I'm not going to take that chance."

Haberman also says he's been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for all the carnage he witnessed in Iraq. "No one knows how long that takes to go away," Haberman says. That diagnosis might jack his disability rating well over 50 percent.

Haberman says he will soon be leaving medical hold at Fort Bragg to be released to the Inactive Reserve; his enlistment is up in January 2006. He's going to have to get a job. But Haberman still fantasizes about being a warrior. By e-mail, he asked the Observer not to print a story about him, because the publicity and printing of his photo would render him unable to serve in Special Operations in the future.

"What you don't understand is that any American that can pick up that paper and read it, the same goes for a 'Haaji' [Iraqi] that is looking to further his cause and to try to kill Americans," Haberman says. "And Hamas has a large following in Dallas, and al Qaeda has an operations center in Arlington, if you didn't already know that."

Maybe Haberman should have considered that before posting his picture and his story on the Internet.

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