Fort Riley-based infantry division goes through desert training in California before possibly leaving for Iraq
Fort Irwin, Calif. When 1st Lt. Jerad Hall signed up for the Army in 2003 he was looking to earn money for college.
Also, "I joined the Army to get out of Kansas," he said.
So it's a twist of fate that the 2002 Lawrence High School graduate is now based at Fort Riley, part of the 5th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. Hall, who received a full scholarship to Kansas University through the ROTC program and graduated in 2006, is the assistant intelligence officer for the 5-4 CAV.
Though he's back in Kansas, he's had several chances to see other parts of the country since his service began. His training has taken him to Oklahoma, Arizona and Washington State, and he is currently with the 5-4 CAV undergoing desert warfare training at Fort Irwin, Calif. The unit may be deployed to Iraq in the fall.
In the Army, he said, "I found my niche."
As an intelligence officer, Hall helps his commanders gather and digest information that comes in from troops in the field.
"We try and find out who's causing the problems in the area and the best ways to apprehend those people that are causing the problems, in order to make the city in wherever we're at and Iraq as a whole a better place to live in," he said.
Since he arrived at Fort Irwin in mid-May, Hall's parents, Jerry and Roxanne, have heard little from their son.
"You can't text him or call him or anything. You want to do that, but you can't, " said Jerry Hall, of Lawrence.
While it's difficult for the Halls not to hear from their son, they're content knowing that Jerad is doing something he loves.
"We know he's 100 percent devoted to his job, and we know he'll do a good job," Jerry said.
"Many people search years to find someplace or something that allows them to grow and expand as a person and be compensated for work they enjoy doing," Roxanne said. "Jerad found that in the military. Jerad has a unique combination of being able to put his personal best into a situation for the greater good."
Still, it's strange to see their son in this role.
"The most difficult emotion to deal with when your child is a soldier, is that you are no longer the one that protects them, but they are protecting you," she said.
If you ask his superiors, Jerad's work ethic and his Kansas upbringing are priceless traits.
Lt. Col. John Richardson, commander of the 5-4 CAV, said Jerad impressed him when they first met, at a time when the 5-4 CAV was being revived in 2006. Jerad, a 2nd lieutenant at the time, was doing the work of a captain, two ranks above him.
"Professional is absolutely a great word to describe him," Richardson said. "He also has all those qualities that you look for in a leader and a second lieutenant. He's physically fit. He leads by example; he's got initiative. All those things are all you ask of the American soldier and the American leader in the U.S. Army.
"As a commander when you get a leader like that, you know you've got a gem."
Richardson, who is on his third rotation at Fort Riley, praised his soldier's Kansas upbringing, which he said developed qualities that are not only important militarily, but also in the human sense.
"Whenever you can get a good Kansas boy like Jerad Hall in your organization, you know he grew up in an atmosphere and an environment of wholesome values, middle America values that really bring a lot to an organization," he said.
Jerry Hall said it's tough to know what his son may face down the road.
"It is scary, but he wants to make a difference in the world, and I think he will by helping train other people to take care of their own country," he said.
A soldier's duty
As for Jerad, serving in Iraq is something that just comes with the job.
"It's my time to go. I've had my brothers and sisters in arms over there since 2003 when we moved in," he said. "Now I'm here with 5-4 Cavalry. I think we're a top-notch squadron in a top-notch brigade. I feel safe with the people I work with.
"It's a close knit team. (The unit) will go down range, do our job, leave it better than what we found it as, and we're all going to come back safe."
One thing he'll definitely take to Iraq is a fondness for the Jayhawks. Whether he was riding in a Humvee or grabbing food in the chow line at Fort Irwin, Jerad never missed a chance to let other Big 12 fans know which team won the Orange Bowl and national basketball championship.