Granville graduate Jonathan Hyatt said he saw action in Iraq, but in looking back credits experiences in Granville for readying him for the Army and a war half a world away.
A little over two years into his first enlistment and Hyatt said he has already spent more time as a part of the Army inside the borders of Iraq than stateside.
Hyatt sat down with the Sentinel to talk about what he had done and seen since receiving his diploma and shipping out.
Now a part of the 101st Airborne division, 1st brigade combat team, 1st battalion 327th infantry regiment since graduating from training, Hyatt said he had already enlisted and has begun to consider a career path that could keep him in the military until retirement.
As with other Army recruits, Hyatt went to Fort Benning, Ga., right after graduation then on to Fort Campbell, Ky., for infantry training to prepare him for everything Iraq held in store.
“That’s the thing: it’s physically demanding, especially being infantry. It’s probably the most physically demanding job in the military. Not only do you have to be in physical (and) mental shape but you better be able to do any job,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt credited tough practices with Granville High School physical education teacher and Army Reservist Steve Palmer with preparing him not just to get through basic training but to excel while there.
“Him (Palmer) being military and going through practice with him, a lot of the stuff we actually did for training, a lot of the conditioning, branches off from the military so when I went there I was in pretty good shape. I just added to that,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt said he was ‘maxing’ out his PT tests which garnered him an award at basic training graduation and set him up for further success.
His conditioning also helped him during Air Assault School at Fort Campbell.
“They say it’s supposed to be the 10 toughest days in the Army but in my own opinion, I don’t believe so; it’s a good school, you learn a lot about every different helicopter, all of the different weapons systems the helicopters fire and you actually rappel from a Blackhawk from over 100 feet,” Hyatt said.
Leaving the safe confines of a helicopter to fall out holding only a rope didn’t faze Hyatt though – he said he had already experienced rappelling with his church youth group here in Granville.
Asked if rappelling was the scariest thing he had done in the Army, he didn’t hesitate to say no.
“That’s not the scariest, believe it or not. Probably being in Iraq (is the scariest),” Hyatt said.
During his time in Iraq, however, Hyatt said he had seen the country do a complete 180-degree turnaround from a combat zone to something approaching, if not normalcy, livable conditions for the people.
“At the beginning of the deployment it went from getting ‘RPG’ed,’ ‘grenaded’, small arms attacks, IED’s to towards the end it calmed down to the point where we might take some small arms fire but it would be like once or twice a month,” Hyatt said. “We turned it around.”
The infantrymen working alongside Hyatt had to do whatever it took to accomplish their mission, he said.
“We had to do all kinds of things,” Hyatt said, from what one might expect of a soldier such as guard duty to tasks like taking care of garbage or even construction.
“We were at a small patrol base and we had to do everything for ourselves,” he said. “I think we did a pretty good job of it.”
Hyatt said he credited the surge – troop increase – for putting more boots on the ground and allowing the Army to establish better control in the country.
Early on in his deployment Hyatt said his unit ended up taking out two ‘HVIs’ or ‘high value individuals,’ including the number three ranked target on the list which made a tremendous difference in how dangerous the area was.
“After we killed him, everything seemed to calm down…he was Al Queda in Iraq, and he was pretty high up,” Hyatt said.
The fire fight that led to the death of the sought after target started during a pretty routine day, he said.
“We took contact in a couple of firefights here and there and that was probably the highlight of the deployment – I received the ‘Arcomofthevee’ (translated for civilian ears the Army Commendation Medal for Valor) for that,” Hyatt said.
“It was actually that one HVI. We took contact – they started firing on my (position) – I was the gunner in the lead truck of our convoy,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt said the group had been escorting a supply convoy ‘the clip’ through the City of Adwar when the rear of the convoy came under grenade attack by an RKG, or a grenade that explodes on impact.
The convoy had been escorting supplies to an operating base called ‘Spiker.’ Helicopters in support spotted where the attacker had gone and they were able to enter the house and capture their attacker.
Shortly afterwards the group found out that military security forces were taking fire from across the Tigress River from some irrigation ditches. The group he was with had been guided to their target by helicopters, intent on making captures, when the targets hiding in those ditches opened fire. Hyatt and his unit returned fire and the enemy combatants were killed.
“Of course, being fired upon I had to return fire and it ended up with two enemy KIA,” he said.
That had been near the beginning of his deployment, when the country was much more of a combat zone.
“When I first got there it was really stressful. I was listening to everything my NCOs told me. All the guys that had been there before…my squad leaders and my team leaders, they let me know everything I needed to know,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt said the unit he deployed with trained together for eight months before going to Iraq and knew each other well, which helped to keep everyone safe.
Some of the techniques he learned dated back to skills developed by our troops in World War II as they learned to ‘clear’ buildings in an urban environment; some of those techniques are also used by SWAT teams as well Hyatt said.
“All of these different battle drills we would constantly practice them,” he said. All of the training helped them to be ready when something new or unusual came along.
“Stuff will go wrong and it always will go wrong, but in the case it does go wrong you can adapt and evolve and be able to get out of a hairy situation,” he said.
The biggest difference he could see from a combat perspective was that the one dimensional battlefield with fronts facing one another has gone away and been replaced by a 360 degree three dimensional battle field where trouble could come from any direction from rooftop to roadside.
Towards the end of his time in Iraq, Hyatt said the base had become a fairly nice place with quite a lot of amenities. The ‘AO’ or area of operations for Hyatt’s time in Iraq was about 40 miles south of the birthplace of Saddam Hussein in Tikrit, and home to the famous spider hole the former dictator was pulled out of by the Army.
“We actually would go down to the river to the actual site where they found him in the hole; I’ve seen the actual home” he said.
Hyatt said he has already re-enlisted for another four years and is headed to schooling for a different career as a human intelligence collector.
In this capacity Hyatt said he expected to handle assets or informants to gather information for use by the Army.
The move from straight infantry to a specialized field looks to help his career develop, he said.
“That should help me out a lot with my career. Being infantry you can always go into law enforcement, but being in intelligence you can go into the FBI or CIA, NSA, any of those different agencies and then maybe get my full 20 (years),” Hyatt said.
“It’s going pretty smooth right now,” he said, expecting promotion to E-5 sometime after completing his next school.
Should that promotion come as anticipated, Hyatt said that would place him at Staff Sergeant before the actual end of his first enlistment.
“Being deployed in Iraq makes a huge difference in promotion, because you get actual combat experience, you’re going to want the guys with actual combat experience to be training other soldiers,” he said