Native honored for Iraq combat service

Published 6:00 am Monday, November 15, 2004

Brookhaven native Army National Guard Lt. Col. Joe Hargett, whowas both promoted and received a bronze star for combat operationsin Iraq recently, says he’s no hero and no different from thethousands of other soldiers serving in the Middle East.

“The only thing people do over there is their job. There are noheroes, except those who won’t return,” he said modestly.

Hargett, a 1986 graduate of Brookhaven High School, was awardedthe bronze star late in 2003 after spending 14 months in Iraq.

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“It was not awarded for one specific act, but for the wholeaction,” he said.

Hargett deployed to Iraq in February 2003 as a battalionoperations officer attached to the Army’s 82nd Airborne. Theyfollowed the 3rd Army Division in its drive through Iraq andestablished a forward operating base (FOB) at Balad, north ofBaghdad, he said.

The situation intensified a few months later when theyestablished a second FOB near Fallujah, Hargett said. He spent ninemonths in the volatile Fallujah region, recognized as theheadquarters city for much of the country’s insurgents.

Many of the United States’ dead and wounded soldiers receivedtheir injuries in the Fallujah area. Convoy attacks werecommon.

“It was a pretty regular occurrence around Fallujah,” Hargettsaid.

Hargett declined to provide details of some of his personalconflicts, saying they were no different than those experienced bymany other soldiers.

Hargett’s expertise as an operations officer were recognized,however, and on Oct. 18 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Henow serves as a full-time Mississippi Army National Guard officerin the 168th Engineer Group.

The unit combines both of Hargett’s careers – military duty andengineering.

Hargett enlisted in the national guard and enrolled in aBachelor of Sciences civil engineering technology degree program atthe University of Southern Mississippi in 1986.

Hargett enlisted, however, not as an engineer but as a militarypoliceman and received an officer’s commission to serve as platoonleader with the 112th Military Police Battalion.

“I was looking for a little diversity,” he said. “I didn’t wantto do the same thing in the military that I was pursuing incollege.”

The 14 months Hargett spent in Operation Iraqi Freedom were hissecond trip to the troubled Middle East. He deployed as a member ofthe 113th MP Bn. in January 1991 as a part of Operations DesertShield/Storm.

The two operations are totally different in perspective, hesaid. The operation now is to liberate the Iraqi people and restoreand upgrade their infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of great things going on there,” he said, citingthe installation or restoration of water and sewer systems, placingpower grids back online and the building of schools andhospitals.

Cooperation with Iraqi community leaders is key to success inIraq, he said.

“That’s where we’re going to sell the idea of freedom. It’s inthose small communities that freedom can really take hold andgrow,” he said.

Hargett joined the national guard full-time in 1993 and mergedhis military and civilian professions in 1994 when he wastransferred to the 168th Engineer Group. Hargett served in severalpositions with the group, including Headquarters Company commander,as a company commander with the 890th Engineer Bn. and as anintelligence officer.

Hargett received his Master’s degree in business administrationfrom Jackson State University in 1998.

He served in several other positions before he was assigned tohis current position as the operations officer in the 168thEngineer Group in September.

Hargett’s success is not lost on his family.

“I’m proud of both of my boys,” said Jean Hargett, the colonel’smother.

Joe Hargett’s brother, Greg, is a major in the Army NationalGuard and serves as an assistant professor of Military Science atUSM, which oversees the Reserve Officer Training Corps program.

“Greg and I are very close,” Hargett said. “We share a lot ofhobbies and interests and try to get together as much aspossible.”