Sacrificing more than time

Bowling Green native David Haas had help learning how to aim and fire a viper missile to shoot down enemy aircraft. He had help avoiding a booby trap that could have cost him his life. And it was help from fellow soldiers and superiors that got him through the toughest times during the Gulf War.

“When I was in the military, they pretty much showed me that you have to rely on your leaders and your buddy next to you in order to help you survive,” Haas said. “When I went through the Gulf I realized how important it was, it didn’t matter who you were … you’re always going to need the person that you’re working with. He could be the guy that protects you.”

A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Haas wasn’t always so willing to return the favor. At 17, he joined the National Guard 148th Infantry in Bowling Green and found himself in the U.S. Army a year later on his way to the Persian Gulf, eventually becoming a platoon sergeant with the 82nd Airborne.

“When I first went through, I wasn’t that structured, I wasn’t disciplined,” he said. “I was a ‘C’ student and I really didn’t try to help anybody out.”

But 12 years of active duty and 27 deployments later, helping out became not only second nature but Haas’ passion. A hockey player in high school, joining the Army and having the chance to help others outweighed any amount of money he could have made playing sports.

“After being in for so long, I realized … I could make half million a year and do nothing or make … smaller pay but do something for somebody,” he said. “It’s a different job, it’s a different way of life, but it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I wanted to do something for the country, I wanted to defend America and protect its way of life.” Despite the adventures, University students in the military find that completing these obligations and attempting to earn a degree at the same time is a tough mission.

For Haas, opportunities for schooling were few and far between during his years in the 82nd Airborne — the University will give him his sixth college experience.

“I went to school when I could,” he said.

Currently in the Simultaneous Membership Program–which allows involvement in both the National Guard and an ROTC program — Haas’ goal is to help ROTC students as he earns his degree and prepares to become an officer. Haas cannot be deployed while a member of this program.

“I’ve been through schools where I’ve kept my mouth shut and through schools where I’m always trying to help people out,” he said. “That’s where I’m looking at, especially now, anyway I can help these future officers lead.”

For Navy reservist and computer science major Frank Fischer, earning his degree hasn’t been that easy to accomplish either. Fischer, petty officer first class, joined the Navy in 1992, spent four years on active duty and is now into his seventh year in the reserves. But his schooling plans have been tossed out to sea twice so far during his time in the reserves.

Most recently, Fischer was sent to Spain in February, halting his plans to finish another semester at Owens Community College. “I knew that we were going to be going, so I was lenient about how much to get into,” he said. “I didn’t want to be involved in a whole lot of classes and then have to get rid of stuff or finish stuff early or late.”

After all, he’s already had to do that once.

Fischer was sent to the Middle East shortly after the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 to help with anti-terrorism and force protection for ships docked in harbors. According to Fischer, his unit — the Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Unit 201 in Toledo — is frequently called because there currently is no active group that is able to work in communications as they do.

Required weekends and three-week long training sessions can also put a strain on coursework, according to Rick Wilmot, member of the National Guard 134th Field Artillery in Cleveland. But luckily these responsibilities breed effective time management.

“Going to those weekends causes a lot of really really late Sunday nights when you get back,” he said. “Sometimes you go away and it’s kind of nice to see my family and see the guys. Sometimes you go away and you miss a good party. Sometimes you go away and you’re in a group project and you miss a two-day long project and everybody’s mad at you. Sometimes you get screwed totally, but it teaches you how to budget your time better.”

For Fischer, handling schoolwork and military obligations is tougher with a 7-month-old in the house. Fischer made it home two days before the birth of his son, Aidan.

“It’s literally a juggling act,” he said. “I pretty much try to get everything done before I go home, that way I don’t have to worry about it. There’s always times where the schedule that I predict doesn’t always work out. It does get pretty strenuous and kind of crazy at times.”

But it’s all worth it for these University students.

“It’s a sense of honor of doing this knowing that because of me and people like me everybody else who’s in the military who make huge sacrifices … give up a lot of their rights,” Fischer said. “They give up a lot of those rights to actually do what they do so that other people can have those rights. You hear about the rivalries … but when it comes time to actually do something, everybody’s on the same side.”

Editor’s Note: This series — honoring those who have served, those who are serving and those who will serve — is being presented in observation of Veterans’ Day on Tuesday.