|Sgt. Maj. Robert Haverback's career with the Illinois National Guard could double as a recruiting advertisement about a true hometown Soldier. Haverback, who retired in October from the 2nd Squadron, 106th Cavalry, was not only an important part of his unit for 38 years, but is also a well-known member of the Kewanee community.
Haverback joined the 1344th Light and Medium Transportation Company in 1972 as a young man with no idea how far the military would take him. He retired at the rank of sergeant major, the highest grade for a non commissioned officer.
As much as he appreciates being a part of the National Guard team, Haverback said he is also grateful to be a part of the Kewanee community. A life-long resident of the area, Haverback is a member of the American Legion, the Elks Lodge and the Moose Lodge. He also said the community and its Soldiers have a close relationship of mutual respect.
"The city truly embraces the National Guard," he said. "We do take great pride in being involved in community activities and events."
And according to some members of the community, Haverback is one of the most involved people they know.
James Jacobs, a service officer with the Illinois Department of Veteran's Affairs in Kewanee, said few people could be counted on to make community events happen like Haverback.
"Basically every organization that Bob is associated with, when they have an event, he's the first one there and the last to leave," said Jacobs.
He said Haverback is well known for being the first person to start cooking pancakes at both community and National Guard events throughout the year. On a more personal note, Jacobs said Haverback also took charge of helping him move his entire office into the Kewanee armory.
"He's the one guy you can always depend on to help. That's the best compliment you can give anybody," Jacobs said.
Pat Dooley, with the Kewanee Park District, also said Haverback is well known for volunteering, especially when pancakes are involved. He remembers Haverback arriving before 4 a.m. to cook for the Moose Lodge.
"Except for the time he overslept and they had to call him," Dooley recalled with a laugh. "He didn't live that down for two years."
Despite the joking, Dooley said he has nothing but respect for Haverback and his efforts in the community.
Because of his devotion to helping others, it is hard to separate Haverback's military career from his community involvement.
In 1975, Haverback's transportation company became the 258th Supply Company. This led to the first in a long list of career changes Haverback went through in order to meet the needs of the military.
While all these changes may have discouraged another Soldier, Haverback saw each position as offering unique opportunities. According to Haverback, his favorite things about each position were the people he met and the places he saw.
Even with his recent retirement, Haverback would still rather sing the praises of other talented Soldiers and leaders than talk about his own accomplishments. Looking back on his career, Haverback said he is lucky to have been associated with individuals who inspired excellence
"I have been extremely fortunate that I've been able to work with the greatest full-time force in Illinois, bar none," Haversack said of the many National Guard Soldiers he has encountered.
One of Haverback's favorite examples of learning from an exceptional leader happened when his company became an air defense artillery unit. According to Haverback, the cost of sending every unit member to Fort Bliss, Texas to learn new job skills would have been too great.
Instead, Col. Randolph Harrison sent Haverback and four other soldiers to Fort Bliss to take the necessary courses. The five soldiers then attended Instructor Training Course which allowed them to train their entire unit on the new skills.
"Every unit I've been in, the accomplishments were about who was in charge. In my opinion I've worked with the best people in Illinois," Haverback said.
Haverback also said his wife, Kolette, his son, Drew, and his daughter, Jacqueline Thurman deserve credit for accepting his hectic lifestyle.
"My wife was in the military so she understands," he said. "They are huge supporters of the military and the things I do."
Though he does not like to talk about his accomplishments, Haverback did talk about the one award that means the most to him, the Military Outstanding Volunteer Award. He said the award is meaningful because it was given with input from members of his community.
In February, Haverback began a new job as a civilian at the Rock Island Arsenal. In his new position he works to maintain accountability of equipment used for training at 14 bases across the country. More than the equipment, though, Haverback said he is happy to still be working with Soldiers.
Asked if there is one military memory that stands above the rest, Haverback said there was no way to decide.
"They are all great memories," he said. "At every camp you can come up with a story."
(Sgt. Maj. Robert Haverback. Story and Photo Courtesy Illinois Army National Guard)