Jay Haden intends to focus on getting the job done and then going home -- in about a year. The job is in Afghanistan.
Haden is a true citizen soldier -- both Jackson County's Chief Deputy County Counselor and an Army Reserve Colonel. Since his term as commander of a reserve unit based in Atlanta expired in February, he had been seeking a new assignment when he was given the choice to "fill a need" in Afghanistan. He has chosen to go.
"The last few weeks I've definitely been listening to every news story about Afghanistan with more interest than I had been previously," said Haden, one day before packing his office and turning it over for someone else to occupy for the next 12 months. (He has been employed with the County for 26 years.)
For the second time in five years, Haden is putting his job with Jackson County on hold to serve the country in a war zone. From October 2004 through October 2005, he was stationed in Iraq's Anbar province -- about halfway between Baghdad and the Saudi-Iraqi border.
"The first time I was deployed, I had to go. This time I didn't have to, but I didn't know when I'd be getting another assignment in the Reserve," Haden said. "You could say I'm kind of a 'half volunteer.'"
Influenced by an uncle of his wife, Ellen, Haden has served in the Army Reserve since 1985. "He was a Colonel in the Army Reserve, and he recruited me. I didn't think then I'd still be pursuing it this many years later."
Haden is scheduled to leave home Saturday, June 6, so he'll miss his and Ellen's 26th anniversary July 23. The couple has three children -- Maggie (23), Doug (21) and Becky (20).
A 'UNIT OF ONE'
In Iraq, Haden was one of more than 120 soldiers with a logistics unit then based out of Kansas City, Kansas. He had trained alongside 60 to 70 people in the unit for more than three years. Now he describes himself as a "unit of one," to be assigned as Judge Advocate to an American brigade commander whose unit is training the Afghan military and police. Working from an air base just outside Afghanistan's second-largest city, Kandahar, Haden will also be assisting the Afghan Judge Advocate General Corps in establishing its own military justice system.
While he has been doing plenty of research to prepare for his deployment, Haden stressed that he wouldn't know precisely all his new duties entail "until I have a lay of the land, until I am over there."
A 'ROYAL' SEND-OFF
Haden has been given quite a send-off. The words of praise he has received from County Executive Mike Sanders and the County's Legislators during recent Legislative sessions have had Haden "nearly blushing."
"First and foremost, we honor and thank Jay for his service to the country," said Sanders. "We look forward to his safe return, and we'll keep him in our thoughts while he is away. And we will certainly miss his expertise. His experience, with more than 20 years with the County, is invaluable."
Haden was also given a moment in the spotlight when the Kansas City Royals invited him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to their May 21 game against the Cleveland Indians. For someone who's been a Royals fan since day 1, back in 1969, taking the field at Kauffman Stadium was both an honor and cause for concern -- concern "I'd embarrass myself with a one-bouncer."
Instead, the first pitch turned out to be a picture-perfect family moment. Jay threw a strike and the catcher on the receiving end of the pitch was his son, Doug.
"In a situation like this, when you are being deployed, you want to know you don't have any baggage left over related to work or your family," Jay said. "I talked this over with my family, and they've been supportive. (County Counselor) Mark Jones has been supportive, as has Mike Sanders and the County Legislators. It makes this more manageable knowing I've got this support network in place for me back here.
"Everybody's been a rock."