Indiana State University Newsroom

Criminology professor serves one year in Iraq

April 7, 2008

Bob Huckabee just couldn't stand aside.

Head served in the Army during the 1970s before entering the reserves while he pursued an academic career. He remained in the reserves when he and his wife moved to Terre Haute in 1986 for him to teach criminology at Indiana State University.

In 1999, he entered the Retired Reserves after serving 28 years in the armed forces, which included a stint as part of the Bosnian peacekeeping mission in 1996-97.

But in 2001, he decided he couldn't stand aside, that he needed to assist his country again.

After 9-11, actually on 9-12, I started to feel that I wanted and needed to do something to serve my country, but I didn't know exactly what or how to go about it, said Huckabee, ISU associate professor of criminology and criminal justice.

That changed in early 2006 when Bob heard about the Army's Retiree Recall Program that allows those in the Retired Reserves to return to active duty.

I investigated, and after several long talks with my wife, decided to submit my name to be placed on a list at Human Resources Command in Saint Louis for possible recall to active duty, he said.

Debbie Huckabee, a counselor in ISU's student support services, describes her husband as a patriot and one who loves America. She understood how he felt when he told her he wanted to serve in Iraq.

Once a soldier, always a soldier, but also in my mind was the element of fear, she said. We had to talk it out of course, and believe me, we talked a lot.

But she knew her husband was a good soldier and a good leader, and they agreed he should enter the program. During the spring of 2007, Professor Huckabee accepted a biometrics officer position with the Multi-National Corps in Iraq for one year.

I am very proud of him, not just for his military experience, but for all of his accomplishments, Mrs. Huckabee said. I fully support and respect my husband and what he is doing. If his work in biometrics in Iraq has even the slightest impact on our efforts to track and eliminate insurgents and would-be terrorists, this time away from each other is very much worth it.

David Skelton, ISU department of criminology chair, said he and Professor Huckabee's colleagues understood why the military man wanted to sign up for another stint.

We were certainly sorry to see him go and miss him as a teacher and mentor for our students, he said. This was a chance for him to serve his country one last time.

But days turned into weeks that turned into months as Professor Huckabee waited for his departure date.

The Army bureaucracy is large and complex, and like any other bureaucracy, it moves at its own pace, he said. I just wanted to be sure that my active duty date was as close to the beginning of the fall semester as possible. I didn't want to be in the position of having to leave after classes had started.

On Sept. 2, Professor Huckabee said a tearful goodbye to his wife, daughter and son-in-law at the Indianapolis airport before flying to Atlanta to reenter military life for one year.

There are times when doing the right thing is difficult, even though you know it is the right thing, he said. This was one of those times. Leaving my family was the most difficult thing I've ever done.

After three weeks of paper work and adjusting to Army life again, Professor Huckabee left on a flight that included stops in Maine, Ireland and Kuwait before arriving in Baghdad.

Co-workers met Professor Huckabee when he landed in Baghdad and took him to Camp Victory.

New arrivals initially live in a tent with anywhere from four to a dozen other people. Then you move into a room in a trailer as space opens up, he said. I was lucky and I only had to spend a couple of nights in the tent.

While his nights are spent in a trailer, his days are spent on the third floor of the Al Faw Palace, which former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein had built after the Iraq-Iran War.

It's quite an impressive piece of work: marble construction including the bathrooms, ornate ceilings and a huge chandelier hanging over the rotunda, he said.

Although he has missed his family, improved technology has helped him to stay connected versus his deployment in Bosnia.

We have e-mail capability and he is able to call me about once a week, Mrs. Huckabee said. Our constant communication has helped me to work through the loneliness.

Also, after Professor Huckabee had served six months he received a two-week break and he met Mrs. Huckabee, their daughter and son-in-law in Europe in March.

But even in the Middle East, Professor Huckabee has found Indiana State connections. On his eighth day in Iraq, as he looked for a seat in the dining hall, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

Do you teach at Indiana State University' the man asked. It was a former criminology student, who graduated in 2004. He was deployed with his Army Reserve unit from Illinois.

Professor Huckabee spends 10 hours a day, seven days a week working in biometrics, which is the science of establishing an individual's identity by unique personal features such as fingerprints, irises or facial features.

While forensic teams may lift fingerprints from captured weapons and soldiers on patrol use computerized equipment to take in information with those they contact, Professor Huckabee's team moves that information. They respond to requests for information, coordinate distribution of equipment and assist with policy preparation for Iraqi use of biometrics.

During the fall, Professor Huckabee visited Rabiyah, in northern Iraq on the Syrian border, to assess the status of biometric operations at a border crossing.

There is a big push now to open up Iraq to commerce with neighboring countries, he said. There is concern, however, that foreign fighters will take advantage of these crossing sites to gain entry into the country or smuggle in weapons.

To counteract those activities, stations have been set up to biometrically screen those coming across the border to check those crossing into Iraq against known insurgents or criminals.

Professor Huckabee admitted there was an element of risk, even with working inside the camp and the palace.

Although we usually live peacefully and feel quite safe, we are in a place where violence -- although down significantly -- is still a reality, he said, adding they receive indirect fire in the form of three to eight rounds of 107 millimeter rockets once a week.

Fortunately, in most cases no one gets hurt, he said. I haven't had any hits anywhere near me.

Two suicide bombers at crowded pet markets in Baghdad on Feb. 1 gained media attention in part because most attacks are on a smaller scale, but also because they used two women who were believed to be mentally handicapped, Professor Huckabee said. The attacks killed more than 100 people and injured 150.

The use of women, particularly mentally handicapped women, suggests that the thugs who orchestrated this madness are either becoming desperate for willing males to carry out their mass murders or they see this as a new and creative method for dispensing death and destruction, he said.

Professor Huckabee also was present for a less ominous occurrence in Iraq.

This morning, I stepped out of my room to find a combination of rain and snow, he wrote in an e-mail on Jan. 11. For the Iraqis, it was the first snowfall that any could remember. People say the rainy season is cold, but short, and I hope they are right. When it rains, the ground turns to gluey mud.

In the fall of 2008, Professor Huckabee plans to return to the classroom, armed with his recent experiences to pass along to his students.

The subject matter that I am working in -- biometrics -- is something that is already starting to be used in the criminology and criminal justice field, he said. I am fortunate to be in a position to have frequent interaction with people who are experienced in criminal justice-related work: police officers, attorneys, correctional officials, crime scene investigators, forensic experts and others. I'm able to observe these folks at work and talk with them about what they do.

Skelton agreed that Professor Huckabee's experience will be an asset not only in the classroom, but for Indiana law enforcement agencies as well.

It puts him in the forefront of technological advancement, he said. When Bob comes home, he'll be extremely valuable because he'll bring his new experience to teaching and a new skill set. He'll make a great contribution, especially to the state of Indiana, because this is the kind of thing we need.

Undoubtedly, Skelton added, Professor Huckabee would develop a class in biometrics, which could become part of coursework in crime analysis and law enforcement intelligence.

This experience in Iraq has reinforced Professor Huckabee's thoughts on the classroom.

I have always tried to conduct my classes as laboratories for the real world, he said. I expect students to come to class, be on time, be prepared for the day's work and stay focused for 50 minutes. I tell them that if they can't do that, if they don't have the self-discipline to follow a few simple rules in a college classroom, we sure don't need them walking around with a badge and gun.

What happens every work day in Iraq matters in real human terms, Professor Huckabee said.

Not to be overly dramatic about it, but this is a war • a low-intensity, insurgent war, but a war nonetheless, he said. While my particular part in all of this is small and indirect, I always bear in mind that I am supporting the American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, who are doing the hard work every day. They, in turn, are doing all they can to bring peace and stability to this country, and make all of our futures safer.

Perhaps it is something in the nature of man that compels violence, greed and dominance, Professor Huckabee speculated. Or perhaps hedonistic, rational man makes clear choices for his own benefit, regardless of how many innocents suffer, he added.

That behavior results in the need for increased safety against the ensuing violence. Americans must lay aside political bickering and realize evil men do exist and will bring harm to the United States and its citizens, he said.

As long as dragons inhabit the earth, there will be a need for a dragon-slayer, he said. At least for now, that dragon-slayer is spelled USA.

For Professor Huckabee, that isn't a battle where one can stand aside.


Contact: Bob Huckabee, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, Indiana State University,

Writer: Jennifer Sicking, assistant director of media relations, Indiana State University, at 812-237-7972 or


Cutline: Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of the Multi-National Force-Iraq with Bob Huckabee, lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State University. Courtesy photo.


Cutline: Bob Huckabee, lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State University, in the International Zone of Baghdad waiting for a helicopter. Courtesy photo.


Cutline: Bob Huckabee, lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Indiana State University, visited Rabiyah, in northern Iraq on the Syrian border, to assess the status of biometric operations at a border crossing. Courtesy photo.