Face of Defense: Soldier Writes New Chapter in Family History
By Staff Sgt. J.B. Jaso III, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, March 31, 2008 As some 19-year-olds are going to college, hanging out with friends and beginning their adult life, one Multinational Division Baghdad soldier is beginning his adulthood in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Army Pvt. Derk Hayes, a Peru, Ind., native, who serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, receives a commander’s coin for excellence March 9, 2008, from Army Lt. Col. Richard “Flip” Wilson, commander of 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, at Camp Taji, Iraq. Photo by Sgt. Brad Willeford, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Army Pvt. Derk Hayes, a Peru, Ind., native, is the youngest soldier in his unit, the 25th Infantry Division’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.
From a very young age, the soldier’s mother said, Hayes knew he wanted to be a soldier.
“He always said that he was going into the Army,” Candace Hayes said. She remembers him saying that when he was 6 or 7 years old. By following through on that dream, Hayes opens a new chapter in the line of his family’s service.
Hayes’ great-uncle, Virgil Hayes, served in the Army during World War II and passed away in 1995, when Hayes was 6. “The last time I saw my Uncle Virgil, I told him I would join the Army,” Hayes said.
His grandfathers also served. His paternal grandfather, Lyle Hayes, is a Pearl Harbor veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries he suffered in Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941, attack on military forces in Hawaii. His maternal grandfather, “Hoot” Gibson, retired after serving 30 years in the Air Force.
After attending basic combat training at Fort Benning, Ga., Hayes was assigned to the 27th Infantry Regiment “Wolfhounds” at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, where he spent three weeks before deploying to Iraq.
“I knew it was going to happen, but not that soon,” Hayes said. “Telling my mom was hard. I care about her more than anything.”
His mom was at work when she received his text message and phone call notifying her that he was deploying in weeks.
“I broke down and just started to cry,” the soldier’s mother said. “I just prayed, prayed and prayed; I was so scared.”
Almost four months into her son’s deployment, his mother admits it’s been tough for her. “I’m doing better and praying for him every day,” she said. “Some days I cry, but he reassures me that he’s fine.”
Hayes said he communicates with his mom as much as possible. Candace Hayes said she also talks with other military mothers in a social network. She is a member of the Web site www.milclub.net, which is a place for troops and their families to communicate and share their experiences. She communicates with other mothers who have children deployed, and said “they are helping me get through this.”
In his first four months in Iraq, Hayes has been on more than 30 patrols, where he helps to provide security for the brigade’s embedded provincial reconstruction team as it travels throughout northwestern Baghdad’s Taji neighborhood.
Hayes received his 25th Infantry Division combat patch March 9 at a ceremony here. The ceremony was a “time to pause and recollect on the gains that we are making,” said Army Lt. Col. Richard “Flip” Wilson, commander of 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment.
After presenting Hayes with his combat patch, Wilson asked the soldier to join him in front of the company formation, where he presented him with a commander’s coin.
“I felt great. Getting a coin inspired me to do better,” Hayes said. “I’ve never seen (a coin) before, and I was really amazed. I’m keeping it in my pocket below my heart.”
Candace Hayes said the military has helped her son make the transition into adulthood.
“The military changed him for the better,” she said upon hearing that the battalion commander had recognized her son. “I’m really, really proud of him.”
(Army Staff Sgt. J.B. Jaso III serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division’s 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.)