Preston G. Haley was born in Youngstown, Ohio in 1978. He grew up in suburban Austintown, and went through Saint Joseph’s Grade School. Then when he was in 9th grade the Haley family moved to Stow, Ohio. Preston graduated from Stow High School in 1996 and then attended Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio for one year. After the 1997 Spring semester, he left OSU and returned home to take a job in Stow.

For the next four years Preston worked in either Stow or Columbus, moving back and forth as he changed jobs several times. Then he joined the Army. He had signed up shortly before 9/11 and was inducted from Broadview Heights, Ohio on October 10, 2001. He took Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and then was ordered to Fort Bliss, Texas for Advanced Individual Training. Preston was trained as an Air Defense Command Control Communications Computers and Intelligence specialist and immediately upon graduation from the course in June 2002, he was sent to Fort Hood, Texas for assignment to the 4th Infantry Division.

Upon arrival, Preston Haley was further assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery. But, before he had time to settle in he was placed on a special detail for a month and a half where he lived and worked off-post in the civilian community on a mission associated with the President of the United States whenever he was staying in Crawford. Preston says, “The living was really, really good and that experience spoiled me for the rest of my time in the Army.” All too soon, he was back in the unit where training was all oriented on preparation for deployment, destination unknown; but somewhere to be committed to action in the war on terrorism. They did not have to wait long.

On April 1, 2003 Preston’s unit deployed from Fort Hood to Kuwait. After only a couple of days in Kuwait, Preston and four other men from the battalion headquarters were deployed with B Battery into Iraq to the town of Taji. Taji is about an hour’s drive from Tikrit (Saddam Hussein’s home town) where the 1st Battalion headquarters was about to be established. Preston Haley was an Early Warning System Operator on a Sentinel Radar, but; because there was no Air Defense mission and because Taji was a “hot town,” the unit quickly became heavily involved in counter insurgency operations, and so, Preston went out on numerous missions as a driver, gunner or rifleman. After two months at Taji with B Battery, Preston was selected to be the battalion Command Sergeant Major’s driver, and so he returned to battalion headquarters that, by then was established on Forward Operating Base “Iron Horse,” located in Tikrit.

For the next four months (June through September) Preston was working for Sergeant Major Coley who was the “Mayor” of the “Pleasure Palace” in Tikrit. That was an R&R (rest and recuperation) destination where a thousand soldiers at a time would come for a brief time away from their unit. Preston says, “That was also pretty good duty for the mayor’s driver. About mid-September CSM Coley was reassigned and his replacement came in. For the next two or three weeks I did a lot of driving because the new Command Sergeant Major needed to get out, see where all the units were located, and meet the soldiers.”

On October 1, 2003, after a trip to outlying units, Preston Haley was driving for the Sergeant Major as part of a three-vehicle convoy on Highway 1. They drove into and through an ambush when returning from Samarra to Tikrit. They were running at 72 miles per hour when an improvised explosive device (IED) by the side of the road detonated, damaging Preston’s Humvee, which was closest to the blast. At the same instant the insurgents unleashed a hail of Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG’s) and small arms fire. One RPG missed just over the top of the vehicle and a second one skipped past underneath between the wheels, but, a third rocket tore through the rear side panel (none of the Humvees were armored at this time) barely missing Specialist Reyes in the back seat, hit and mortally wounded the Sergeant Major in the front seat beside Preston, then penetrated the firewall and exploded against the engine block. It was all over in just a few seconds because they were traveling at such a high rate of speed that they were clear of the ambush site almost in the next instant of time.

The other two vehicles had sped on ahead to a pre-determined rallying point where they called for support. His vehicle was badly damaged and the tires were blown, but it was still running, and Preston Haley, deaf with ruptured eardrums and bleeding from fragmentation wounds, with his dying sergeant beside him, was still driving as fast as he could. He soon reached the safety of the rallying point. Military Police secured the site and after the Sergeant Major’s body was flown out on a Blackhawk Medevac helicopter all the vehicles drove on into Tikrit.

Preston was treated for fragmentation wounds in the Aid Station at Forward Operating Base “Iron Horse.” From there he was flown to the hospital, 15 minutes away, at Camp Spicher where doctors ordered his evacuation for treatment of his ear damage. On October 5, 2003, just before he was flown out to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Preston first spoke at a memorial service for the Sergeant Major, and later in the morning was awarded the Purple Heart by his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Starsky. After 10 days in Germany, SPC Haley was diagnosed as requiring an operation in the United States so he was sent back to Fort Hood, Texas and treated by the audiologists at Darnell Army Medical Center. He was then returned to duty with the 4th Infantry Division where he served (you guessed it) as driver for the Chief Of Staff, at that time Colonel Shanahan who at that time was commanding the rear detachment.

Preston Haley was granted an “early out” for schooling in August 2004 and he was an entering student at Austin Community College for the Fall term. Next, he took a job with ManTech International Corporation, soon jumped to a position with Northrup Grumman Corporation at Fort Hood, and then moved to Austin where he has most recently joined Chapter 1919, Military Order of the Purple Heart.