Soldier pays a visit

Hatch returns to Kingman after two tours in Iraq

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br><br>
Returning from serving in Iraq are (left) Spc. Mark Carlill and Maj. Josef Hatch, pictured Saturday at VFW Post 10386 in Kingman. VFW Post 10386 hosted a celebration Saturday in honor of the two soldiers. The Patriot Guard escorted Carlill and Hatch to the post, where Kingman Mayor John Salem and the VFW Post presented certificates and plaques to the soldiers. Hualapai Valley Fire Department and Mohave County Sheriff�s Office also participated.

JC AMBERLYN/Miner<br><br> Returning from serving in Iraq are (left) Spc. Mark Carlill and Maj. Josef Hatch, pictured Saturday at VFW Post 10386 in Kingman. VFW Post 10386 hosted a celebration Saturday in honor of the two soldiers. The Patriot Guard escorted Carlill and Hatch to the post, where Kingman Mayor John Salem and the VFW Post presented certificates and plaques to the soldiers. Hualapai Valley Fire Department and Mohave County Sheriff�s Office also participated.

KINGMAN - There's no place like home. At least not to Maj. Josef Hatch, who's served three tours in Korea, two tours in Iraq and recently received the Purple Heart Medal for injuries sustained from a rocket attack in Iraq.

"The biggest thing is how positive all the support I get from Kingman is," he said. "I almost get kind of embarrassed about it sometimes. I'd just like to thank anyone from Kingman that sent a care package over there."

Hatch is part of a special group of Army soldiers called a forward operational assessment team. The teams are sent all over Iraq to question soldiers about and evaluate the effectiveness of new technology, equipment and weapons in the field.

During his last tour, his team was gathering information on mine resistant vehicles, vehicles that can withstand a blast from a mine or improvised explosive device. He was also working on a precision-guided artillery round.

Last October, a rocket hit Hatch's vehicle while he was driving on base. He had just been promoted nine days before. The rocket was one of 14 that were launched at the base in an attempt to hit Gen. George Petraeus, who was visiting at the time.

"I remember seeing the flame, but it was the noise that scared me the most. It was so loud that I thought it was going to snatch my soul from my body," he said. "The truck had so many holes in it. It was like swiss cheese."

Hatch was one of the lucky ones. At least 44 soldiers were wounded and four were killed in the rocket attack. The seven insurgents responsible for the attack were captured.

Hatch's team is not supposed to be involved in battles, they're not supposed to be involved in firefights or go on patrol.

But there's no escaping it out there, he said. "Everyone's on the battlefield."

He suffered a compressed spine, mild traumatic brain injury and permanently lost around 20 percent of his hearing in his left ear.

Doctors at first weren't sure if he would be able to walk again.

"I was crying, not because I thought that I would never walk again, but because I thought my career with the Army was over," he said.

Hatch comes from a long line of army men who specialized in artillery. His father, grandfather and great uncle were all in the army and all lived in Kingman.

"I always wanted to be in the military," he said. He remembers watching the Memorial Day parades as a kid with his parents.

Hatch has served nearly 12 years in the military and plans to spend the rest of his life serving.

His wife recently signed up for Officer Candidate School, something that really surprised him, but after talking with some of his military buddies it seemed to make sense.

"They were always telling me that she would make a good commander," he said.

While he has been gone on duty, she has earned two college degrees and raised their two children. She would even send him the kids' homework to look over.

"Whoever said 'that absence makes the heart grow fonder' must have been in the military," he said. "Every time our marriage seems to settle down, I'm sent off to someplace else. And every time I come back it's like we're newlyweds all over again."

He struggled, successfully, to stay in Iraq and finish his tour while he healed from his injuries. It took him nearly a month to be able to walk and function normally again. He still has some mild memory loss.

The most surreal thing about the whole experience, he said, was when he woke up next to a little Iraqi boy who had lost both of his legs and most of his family to IED.

Hatch and the others that were injured in the attack also received a visit from Petraeus.

"The first thing he asked me is if I had called my wife, and he knew my wife's name," Hatch said. "I know he probably had some aide or someone like that look that up, but he took the time to have someone research that."

He received the Purple Heart Medal for his injuries in May.

Hatch returned to the U.S. in April. He has another few weeks of leave before he returns to duty at a special school for non-commissioned officers in the states. After he finishes, he may return for duty in Iraq.

"I'm not over there to fight for oil. I'm fighting Islamic insurgents," he said. "And I'm ready to go back there again. I would rather fight them in their back yard than ours."

Things in Iraq have changed since his first tour there, he said.

"You can tell. When you fly over places, there are more soccer fields, more buildings, more things being built," he said.

"Korea is beautiful," he said. He credits that beauty to the troops who served in the Korean War and afterwards, who worked hard to bring the country back around. But it took a long time to do so.

"I just hope we can do the same with Iraq," he said.