State guardsman one of 12 killed in Iraq copter crash

January 24, 2007|By Phillip McGowan and Bradley Olson | Phillip McGowan and Bradley Olson,sun reporters

A senior enlisted soldier in the Maryland National Guard who begged to be sent overseas after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was one of 12 service members killed Saturday when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed north of Baghdad, Iraq, military officials said yesterday.

Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Haller, 49, served as the highest-ranking enlisted leader in a training unit at Camp Fretterd near Reisterstown before being assigned to the National Guard Bureau, the military's liaison with state militias, and deployed to Afghanistan.

Although the Maryland National Guard declined to provide any information about Sgt. Maj. Haller because the Pentagon had not confirmed his death, Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, the Guard's adjutant general for Maryland, sent out an internal e-mail saying "with an extremely heavy heart," that the Annapolis-area resident had been killed in the crash.

"He just thought it was important to have people fight for the freedoms that we take for granted," said Sandra Hockman, the ex-wife of Sgt. Maj. Haller and the mother of his two daughters and son.

His eldest daughter, Morgan Haller, 21, told the Associated Press that her father repeatedly asked his superiors to deploy him overseas after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, eventually getting his wish after Thanksgiving last year when he was sent to Afghanistan.

Sgt. Maj. Haller worked in construction and as a plumber before returning to the Guard full time.

"He was so excited. He still asked us if it was OK. I said, `It's something you love. I'm not going to tell you no,'" Morgan Haller said. "We knew what the consequences were in him being over there. When you grow up in a military life your whole life, you know those things can happen, and you're better prepared for it than most people."

Of her father's military assignments, Morgan Haller said: "He just said he was going over there to fix other people's messes, and that's about it."

Family members told the AP that Sgt. Maj. Haller was a motorcycle enthusiast who taught his daughters how to hunt and fish. He enjoyed taking his family traveling.

"Every summer, we would go to a different place," Kathryn Haller, 17, a high school senior, told the AP.

Sgt. Maj. Haller's son, Sgt. Daniel Haller, 22, served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and came home shortly before his father was deployed, Ms. Hockman said.

According to military reports available online, Sgt. Maj. Haller was serving as a human resources liaison for the National Guard in Afghanistan, although it was unclear why he had gone to Iraq when he died.

Ms. Hockman said that when family members learned of Sgt. Maj. Haller's death, Morgan Haller did not initially believe the news.

"That's what shocked my oldest daughter. She thought, `He's not in Iraq, he's in Afghanistan,'" Ms. Hockman said.

Sgt. Maj. Haller graduated with bachelor degrees in political science and history from Fairmont State College in West Virginia, where he met Ms. Hockman.

The youngest of five siblings, Sgt. Maj. Haller was inspired to serve in the military by his father and uncle, who both served tours in World War II in the Pacific theater, Ms. Hockman said.

He joined the National Guard in Virginia in 1981, and he and Ms. Hockman moved to the Eastern Shore in 1982. He served out of Easton for the next 10 years, then Reisterstown and Arlington, Va.

Sgt. Maj. Haller had the choice of serving a Middle East tour starting last month or in April, Ms. Hockman said. He chose the first window because he wanted to be back to the Eastern Shore in time to see his youngest daughter, 17, graduate this year from Cambridge-South Dorchester High School.

Morgan and Kathryn Haller live with Ms. Hockman in Cambridge.

The military has said little about the crash, which came on one of the deadliest days of the Iraq war, when 25 service members were killed.

Published accounts suggest that the helicopter may have been shot down by a group of Sunni insurgents with connections to al-Qaida.

Sgt. Maj. Haller never flinched at the opportunity to serve his country, Ms. Hockman said.

"There are some people who would say: `There's no way I can do that.' Roger was another kind of person. He would say: `Sign me up, I'm the guy."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com bradley.olson@baltsun.com

Sun reporters David Wood, Michael Dresser and Dan Lamothe contributed to this article.

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