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Hayley Haka bridges the gap between communications and the military. (Photo by Sgt. Beverly Roche, U.S. Army)

From Cockpit to Camera: Student follows in family's military footsteps

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Media Contact: Sophia Fahleson | Digital Communications Specialist | 405-744-7063 |

For some people, a single defining moment led them to where they are. For others, maybe the many moments compare to small breadcrumbs they subconsciously follow during their lives.

For Hayley Cobb Haka, the breadcrumbs were the path. The U.S. Army had always been a conversation at family gatherings and a potential career always in the back of her mind, she said. However, she talked herself out of it time and time again until one day she graced the doorsteps of the Oklahoma State University Army ROTC Battalion.

“I was a junior in one of Dr. Angel Riggs’ writing classes when I had the opportunity to write about the flag placing on Edmon Low Library Lawn,” Haka said. “I did some digging and found out about the Army ROTC’s participation in the event and went to the battalion to talk to someone.”

What started as an interview for a story turned into Haka connecting with her own family history within the ROTC program and would soon lead to her enrollment.

Haka’s family has a rich history of involvement in the U.S. Army. Her grandfather, retired Army Col. Alvin “Bruce” Cobb, graduated from OSU and was commissioned through OSU Army ROTC in 1965. Cobb served 28 years in the aviation and infantry branches before his retirement.

Her father, Bill Cobb, and uncle, retired Col. Clay Cobb, later followed their father’s footsteps, and both commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army after college. Haka was not far behind them.

“I remember telling the cadre my granddad was an alumnus of the Cowboy Battalion and being asked if the Army was a career I had ever thought about,” Haka said. “I was like, ‘Well, yes, but I haven’t really told anyone that.’”

Upon entering college, Haka said she believed she wanted to be an OSU Extension educator, which led to her pursuit of an agricultural communications degree.

However, not long after her initial moments in ROTC, she began discussing the possibility of a future military career with her family — much to the surprise of her veteran father.

“Based on the required commitment, I discouraged the idea every time we talked about it,” Bill Cobb said. “But then one day she said ‘Why won’t you support me? I want to do this.’ So, I turned to her and said, ‘Then, I’m all in with you.’”

The decision to join the military is never one made lightly, but Haka immediately bought into the Army ROTC mission, she said. With the support of her family, she picked up their torch and began paving the way for her future career.

Haka first walked into Thatcher Hall, the home of the Cowboy Battalion, in October 2015, and by the following March, Haka was enlisted in the Army. Just a few months later, she attended basic training as a private first class.

Like her granddad before her, Haka found significant success in the program. Her intrinsic drive and determination set her apart early in her ROTC journey, said Lt. Col. Dave Hosler, retired OSU Army ROTC professor of military science.

“I took the time to get to know our military science cadets so I could select someone as the cadet battalion commander,” Hosler said. “Hayley immediately stuck out because it was obvious she wanted to know what she could do for the military rather than just what it could do for her.”

 One year into her time as a cadet, Haka became the cadet battalion commander, the highest-ranking cadet in the program. She would also graduate at the top of her ROTC class.

“When I found out I was at the top of my ROTC class, I can remember my granddad saying, ‘Oh, you’ll get awarded a 1911 pistol like I did!’” Haka said. “I had no idea what he was talking about.”

Her granddad was referring to a 1911 pistol, historically awarded to the No. 1 cadet in the battalion. He received one of his own in 1965, and when he learned the award was no longer given, he sponsored it himself, Haka said.

For her accomplishments as a cadet, Haka received the inaugural Col. Alvin B. Cobb Award, restarting the tradition for every top graduating cadet in the program.

“My family still goes back each year to present the award,” Haka said. “It’s cool to see those cadets in the same shoes as I was in 2018 and my granddad in 1965.”

Those around her, or even Haka herself, would say her family legacy throughout the military and within the Cowboy Battalion were large motivators in her desire to pursue a career in the Army.

As a cadet, Haka was inspired to follow in her granddad’s aviation path and set her sights on earning a helicopter pilot position, which she succeeded in doing.

However, Haka’s unique degree choice made for an interesting academic balance, which became more entangled as she neared her graduation and commission date, she said.

“It was challenging to continue to put 100% effort into all my classes after I found out my job,” Haka said. “All I could think about was flying. If you would have told me then where I’d be today, I would have thought you were crazy.”

Riggs, OSU agricultural communications associate professor, recalled her own surprise when Haka told her of her aviation aspirations.

Haka was always engaged and dedicated to her courses and assignments, Riggs said, but her passion for aviation was undeniable.

“I remember the day Hayley stood in the doorway of my office and told me she knew what she wanted to do,” Riggs said. “She said, ‘I’m going to fly helicopters,’ and she made it happen.”

A few years into her career as a helicopter pilot, Haka was sent to Fort Cavazos, Texas. Walking in on her first day, she noticed a flyer on the bulletin board advertising the unit’s social media pages.

“I started asking around about who managed them and found out the current lieutenant just wasn’t ready to hand over the project yet,” Haka said. “So, I gave him my number for when he was, and I got a text about a year and a half later.”

Haka became the battalion unit public affairs representative in April 2021, which is a voluntary position requiring no specific training. Soon after, she became a fill-in for the brigade public affairs officer.

At the time, Haka was still thriving in her aviation career but what was meant to only be a few months of filling in turned into almost a year-and-a-half-long gig, she said.

What she didn’t know was this uncommon opportunity would relight a passion she thought she tucked away forever when she received her pilot selection, Haka said.

“I thought the opportunity to volunteer for the brigade public affairs office was a cool way to try out the public affairs world without having to commit,” Haka said. “Instead, I fell in love with Army public affairs and realized what I wanted to be doing.”

However, Haka’s six-year commitment to the Army as an aviator was not yet complete. So, as her desire to transition to working in public affairs grew, she was faced with a few hoops to jump through.

Public affairs is not a commissionable career in the Army. To be considered, a soldier first must be a lieutenant promotable or a captain who has completed the captain’s career course.

A significant amount of time and resources are put toward training a military aviator, requiring Army pilots to commit to serving extended contracts. To discontinue her aviation service while still under contract, Haka had to be accepted through Human Resources Command to be able to apply for the transition. She requested an exception from HRC three times before her paperwork was finally accepted for review.

Stewart Haka, Hayley Haka’s husband and an Army chief warrant officer 3, watched her prioritize and pursue her public affairs dream despite the trials, he said.

“It’s challenging to watch someone go through being told ‘no’ when they want it so badly,” Stewart Haka said. “Watching her try a third time, I felt a lot of pride and respect for her. I think  it’s just a testament to her character and drive.”

In September 2023, Hayley Haka’s application was accepted. As quick as the flip of a light switch, her world went from flying helicopters to telling her unit’s story. She is preparing to attend specialty training for her new career in early 2024.

Though her path from the Ferguson College of Agriculture differs from many of its alumni, Hayley Haka represents the college and OSU worldwide through her roles in the U.S. Army.

“Through the skill sets I was able to sharpen as an OSU agricultural communications student, I am able to tell the stories of the soldiers who make us the world’s greatest Army,” Hayley Haka said.

Story by: Reagan Lockhart | Cowboy Journal

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