It’s 9:30 a.m. on a Monday and Staff Sgt. John Hatfield is already on the move, answering emails and fielding calls from mothers of potential recruits at the Brenham Army Recruiting Station, where he has been stationed for more than a year.
In his 16-year tenure with U.S. Army, Hatfield has seen the world and come full circle back to Texas.
Serving as station commander, he is responsible for ushering in the next generation of servicemen and women.
Raised in Killeen, Hatfield decided to join the U.S. Army Reserves in his senior year at Copper’s Cove High School, where he also met his wife, Lora, and graduated in 2003.
He doesn’t come from a military background or family and admits the driving force behind his decision was a means to get a degree.
“The main driving motivation was to pay for college after completing base job training as a helicopter mechanic. I have no family in the military, but I grew up around a military installation, so I knew what it was about,” Hatfield told The Banner-Press. “An Army recruiter was the first person to talk to me. He gave me a great opportunity to be a helicopter mechanic.
“I had general mechanic knowledge, but coming into the Army, you don’t have to have any specific prior knowledge. It teaches you everything you need to know and you get paid while going through training.”
He returned home and attended Central Texas College, studying drafting and design for a year before he was deployed in 2005.
He transitioned from a helicopter mechanic to a member of the flight crew, delivering cargo, supplies and troops, completing a support mission for earthquake relief in Pakistan, then to Afghanistan for another mission.
“After that deployment, I decided I really liked active duty, so I transitioned to active duty, where I was stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas,” Hatfield said. “We were there for a year whenever I came down on orders to go to Iraq, where I spent 15 months as a crew member.”
When he returned, he and his wife had their first child, a son named Hayden, and was stationed in Fort Rucker, Alabama, where he served as an instructor at the flight school for two years.
After their second child Kinlei was born, Hatfield traveled on an unaccompanied tour of Korea for a year before moving back to Fort Carson, Colorado, where his growing family spent the next three years.
While in Colorado, he was able to complete his initial mission of obtaining an information technology degree from Central Texas College in 2014.
“Whenever I originally joined, it was to pay for college, but I enjoyed defending our country and I enjoyed the humanitarian missions,” Hatfield said, “Even though I’ve been deployed twice and been in combat situations, the most memorable moments have been the humanitarian missions I’ve done.
“As a helicopter crew member, I’ve been in earthquake relief in Pakistan, fighting a forest fire in Colorado and provided relief during Hurricane Katrina. The aircraft I worked on and crewed on is a multi-functional platform, so we can extinguish fires or haul in cargo. When we were in Pakistan, the main supply route was wiped out by the earthquake. With our fleet of 12 aircraft, we hauled in every necessity — flour rice building materials, live animals — everything they needed to survive, we provided for them, in addition to medical care as well.”
After his three-year stay in Colorado, Hatfield came down on recruiting duty and was stationed in Sugar Land, where Macy was born in 2015.
“Since then, I’ve enjoyed the recruiting aspect to the point where I decided to chance my career plan and run a recruiting station,” Hatfield said, explaining how he was required to undergo specific training to manage the different aspects of recruitment. “I’m a station commander and I enjoy it for the simple fact of seeing lives change — taking men and women who are lost and in need of direction and providing that opportunity for them. I’ve enjoyed the continuous relations with the community. It’s very different than what I was used to as a mechanic.”
In 2018, Hatfield was stationed on orders to take over the Brenham office, building relationships with the local communities and schools, putting more than 30 young men and women into the Army to pursue various fields ranging from medical to intelligence jobs.
“Our target market is 17-24-year-olds. We continuously keep in contact with schools, with classroom presentations at high schools and colleges, covering about 1,250 square miles in the local area between Austin, Washington, Waller and Fayette counties,” he said. “We also support events such as local blood drives, the Watermelon Run for the Fallen and youth and mentoring events through local churches and the boys and girls club. We provide purpose, direction and motivation to the young men and women of the community.”
Hatfield feels that his years of experience in the Army — in which he accumulated more than 1,000 hours of flight time, earned the Combat Action Badge awarded for coming into contact with enemy forces in his deployment, and the Air Medal for flying as a combat crew member during conflict — has greatly contributed to his skills as station member and has prepared him to guide the next generation of recruits.
“Leadership is the number one criterion that I’ve been trained and learned in the Army. During those deployments, I became a leader. I had soldiers underneath me. Being able to use that experience in my day-to-day routine has helped me tremendously,” he said. “When we’re in high schools, we’re informing the younger generation of what what the Army can offer them, how we can provide job qualities and trade skills and help them achieve their goals of achieving a degree and set them up for retirement for those who want to stay in for 20-plus years.”
The first step, Hatfield explained, is to find out whether a potential recruit meets standard qualifications from morals to medical history and education and skills.
“There are quite a few qualifications. Once we make sure they’re qualified, we find out their interests and help them get the job selection they want based on their goals in life,” he said, adding that they’re then sent to the Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS), where all military branches process the candidates, ensuring they are physically and intellectually qualified.
“That’s where they’re sworn in. They return here and we get them physically and mentally ready to ship off to basic training. Whenever it’s time to ship them to basic, we facilitate their needs as well. Some individuals will stay in the program for up to a year, mostly as seniors in high school.”
Since his time as a recruiter, Hatfield has guided 125 individuals into the armed services, with 30 from the local region alone.
“I’ve stayed in touch with quite a few of the recruits and a lot of their families,” he said. “We put the son of a local pastor here in and I watched him develop and go through school. It’s a great thing to see the transformation from a civilian to a soldier.”
While Hatfield and his family have enjoyed planting tentative roots in the Brenham community, he knows duty will call again within the next year or two.
“Since being in the Army, I’ve been to more than 13 different countries. I’ve gotten to see different cultures and taste different foods.
“Being in Korea, I’ve seen a culture that’s older than our country and hand-built palaces. The relations that I’ve had and the people I’ve met through my time in the Army have been tremendous,” said Hatfield. “My three children have gotten to see more than the average kid. They’ve been all over and have gotten to see different parts of the U.S., different cultures and experience different schools. It’s been a blessing and a curse at the same time.”
After traveling all over the world and with his next destination yet to be determined, Hatfield said he’d love to return back to the Brenham area.
He is four years shy of his 20-year tenure in the U.S. Army and has his sights set on the next chapter in life, turning a passion into a profession.
“I plan on opening my own business. My wife and I have a hobby of quilting. The goal would be to continue that and open our own quilt shop in the local community,” Hatfield said, explaining how the self-taught skill was inspired by his grandmother and he’s used his experience in woodworking in turn to design quilts.
“It’s a release for me and it’s a way for our family to bond. We got into it to build our relationship, so it’s a lot of family time.
“I’d love to stay in this community. I plan on settling down. I’ll be here for another year or two and finish my career. We really enjoy this area — the climate and the community, so it is calling us to come back to settle down.”