Fairfield Now - Fall 2007
Class of '96 profile
Gregory Hussey Hayes: with heart and soul
By Nina M. Riccio
Gregory Hayes is a lucky guy.
Lucky that the driver of his jeep knew to speed up to avoid a direct hit with a timed explosive.
Lucky that he - and the convoy following along behind him - got away with minimal injuries.
Lucky because he's got a job he not only loves, but believes in with all his heart and soul.
Back in his Fairfield days, Hayes was a chemistry major and math minor. He considered joining the Army after graduation, but was accepted to a master's program in chemistry at Brown and opted to do that instead. Life was good in the small town outside Boston where he settled; Hayes had a good job as a chemical engineer, and he and his wife, Laura, had a young son and a newborn daughter. His reasons for giving it up and joining the Army? "September 11th devastated me," he says simply.
With his strength in math, Hayes was a natural for the Army's field artillery unit, and deployed first to Korea. "Field artillery is charged with firing canons, missiles, and rockets, the newest of which are guided by GPS (global positioning system) technology, and the coordinates of the targets must be loaded in so the weapons can be fired accurately," he explains. "I was a fire direction officer, so my job was to process the information we had gathered and tell the gun where to fire."
In December 2005, Hayes flew to Kuwait, and was then assigned to Camp Fallujah, about halfway between Baghdad and Ramadi, the capital of al Anbar province. It's the heart of the infamous Sunni triangle, and one of the most blistering spots in an increasingly hot zone. "We were very well trained," Hayes says of his battery, the Alpha Renegades. "In fact, we were the first to successfully fire a GPS-guided rocket and make a direct hit."
The battery worked closely with the Marines to fight the various militias that were wrecking havoc in the area. It took a few months, but those militias were eventually defeated or left the area, "and I really think it was due to our well-targeted firings on their positions," says Hayes, who adds that the troops made it a priority to get the electricity back on, the water flowing, and the soccer stadium opened once the gang and criminal activity ceased. That's not to say that the troops acted alone; the governor of Ramadi deserves much of the credit for turning the area around, Hayes says. "Despite 29 attempts on his life, he traveled all around, inspiring others and getting them to unite against al Qaeda. Today, the region is one of the biggest success stories of the war."
Today, Hayes is training at a base in Oklahoma, but by December he'll be back in Iraq. Unfortunately, he's still separated from his family in Massachusetts. "It didn't make sense to take Laura away from her support systems when I'm only going to be here a few months," he says. Still, it's tough to be away from eight-year-old Liam and his sister Caili, almost six. "They understand somewhat," he says, "but every time I'm home it makes it that much more special because it's rare. I get four-day weekends, and when I'm there I spend every minute with them. I told them that if I were home all the time, I'd have to go to work every day and we would actually have less time together."
Hayes is currently training for what he sees as one of the most strategically important jobs of this war: mission transition. In other words, he's learning how to train the Iraqi Army to take over operations so the U.S. can eventually pull out. "We're not ready to go yet, but by next year, we'll be so close to victory. The surge is working; every neighborhood we go into becomes a gem in a week or two," he says, adding his wish that "Congress lets the generals fight this war. You can't do it by committee."
"I'm not sure how long my family can take this," Hayes admits, "but the Army has been so great. I love it, and as long as I feel I can make a difference, I will."