A new generation of vets steps forward in Eagle County | VailDaily.com

A new generation of vets steps forward in Eagle County

Chris Outcalt
Eagle County, CO Colorado
Vail Daily/ Chris OutcaltIraq War veteran Mike Halas led a platoon of more than 30 people during his time in Iraq. Halas, who spoke to Battle Mountain High School students Monday, said he wants to help young people understand what it's like to be in the military.

EAGLE COUNTY ” This year was Eagle County resident Mike Halas’ first chance reflect on what Veterans Day means to him.

The 29-year-old Iraq War veteran completed his active duty in October 2007 but said he’s only recently gained the perspective needed to understand what it means to be a veteran.

As a platoon leader in Iraq, Halas was directly in charge of more than 30 soldiers. He chose to use a participatory style of leadership, getting input from as many people as possible before making a decision. But the final decisions were his to make.

“It makes you grow up quick,” said Halas, who was in his mid-20s when he led the Army platoon. “I think that’s unique to the military. It’d be very hard in a so-called normal society to find a 24-year-old kid that has 40 people that he is a direct supervisor for.”

But despite his experiences at a young age, Halas said it took time away from the military to realize one of the most productive things he can do as a veteran is help explain what it’s like to be in the military.

“One of the most important things as a veteran is to try and close down the questions people have,” he said. “People don’t know what it’s like.”

Halas spent Monday trying to bridge that knowledge gap by talking to students at Battle Mountain High School. Being a younger veteran sometimes offers him a better opportunity to connect with students, he said.

“With most (young) people, veterans are their grandfathers,” Halas said. “It’s interesting because I guess we’re better able to relate stories.”

Halas graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2002 with a sociology degree. He trained to be an infantry officer at Fort Benning in Georgia and was deployed to Iraq in January 2004. He was there for 14 months.

“We didn’t have a lot of equipment, so it was easy to move us from one place to another,” Halas said. “Every time we went somewhere, it would kind of be to a hot spot.”

Halas worked as an intelligence officer with the 75th Ranger Regiment after returning to the county from his infantry deployment.

“It was a fantastic experience being able to see what the conventional Army is like on a deployment and then going into the special ops side as an intelligence officer,” he said.

Halas has visited multiple schools since moving to the area to work at the Beaver Creek Children’s Ski School. On Monday, he showed a Battle Mountain history class pictures of where he lived in Iraq, the gear he wore and the places his platoon patrolled.

The most common question Halas said he gets from students is whether he’s killed anyone.

“I tell them the truth,” he said. “I’ve never pulled the trigger and fired a bullet that killed someone, but being a platoon leader with 34 guys that I make the decisions for ” the decisions that I’ve made have directly ended other peoples lives.”

East Vail resident Mike Mathias, who served as a Green Beret in the Vietnam War, said it’s important to have a younger veteran in the community.

“Attracting veterans from the gulf wars is very difficult,” Mathias said. “For some reason, that generation just doesn’t seem to want to join (veterans groups).”

Pat Hammon, who served in Vietnam as an army nurse, said younger veterans also often have a different point of view to offer than World War II and Vietnam veterans.

“We need to keep the organization changing as the times change,” Hammon said. “That’s real healthy in my opinion.”

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

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