Farmer Reflects on Military and Farming Parallels

By Bethany Baratta, Iowa Soybean Association

Morey Hill, an Iowa Soybean Association district director, was drafted to serve in the Army during the Vietnam War. According to census data, Hill is one of the 12,829 farmers in Iowa with military experience.

It was always Morey Hill’s dream to someday operate his family’s multi-generational farm. Years later, after serving his country in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and obtaining college degrees, he would do just that.

“I just knew I would farm,” says Hill, a board member for the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) and the American Soybean Association (ASA). “I just didn’t know when or how it was going to be accomplished.”

Life Interrupted

Hill was a student at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, on a wrestling scholarship, when he got his draft orders.

“By that time, they had quit giving college deferments; they couldn’t draft you out of school, but could draft you in between semesters,” Hill said. “I got my draft notice right at the end of my first year in junior college.”

Hill was one of the last draftees from the lottery system; the U.S. ended the draft for those born in 1952.

He chose deferred enlistment, then joined the U.S. Army, allowing more time for him to prepare to leave his family’s farm in Perry. His joining meant a three-year enlistment contract in the U.S. Army.

Hill reported to basic training in Ft. Ord in California, and then transferred to Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He would later be stationed at Schofield Barracks on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. 

“Being a farm kid from the middle of Iowa and getting thrown in with people from all over the country – it was a culture shock,” Hill says.

Hill was assigned to mortars and eventually worked his way up in leadership. He was a squad leader, then an assistant platoon leader, then filled in as a platoon sergeant while another was on a 30-day medical leave.

He trained an additional six weeks in Australia with other service members from Australia, Britain and New Zealand.

Though he never saw the battlefields of Vietnam, his team was packed and prepared to leave three times before they were told to stay put.

When Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, Hill’s squad was ordered to Guam to set up for refugees from South Vietnam. This assignment was one of his last in the Army.

Coming Home

Within days of returning to Iowa, Hill returned to Iowa Central Community College to finish his degree. It was there that he met Rhonda, his future wife.

“I fully believe that everything happens for a reason,” Hill says. “If I hadn’t been in the Army for three years, I wouldn’t have met Rhonda.”

Hill transferred to Iowa State University, where he obtained his degree in liberal studies. He and Rhonda were married in 1980 and later became parents to daughters Dana and Meghan. They moved from Ames to Sheldahl, where Hill would be mayor from 1986 until they moved to rural Madrid in 1998. In the meantime, Morey helped his father on the farm; however, the farm was not large enough to support two families. Morey worked for Farm Service and provided expertise in fertilizer and agronomy services.

Morey and Rhonda started farming full time in 2005 as the third generation on Morey’s side and the fourth generation on Rhonda’s side. They grow soybeans and corn and raise sheep and laying hens.

Hill is one of the 12,829 farmers in Iowa with military experience, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which was the first year the USDA started noting military service in the report. The 2017 Census showed that 351,647 men and 18,972 women were identified as U.S. veterans. Of those, 42,730  were engaged in oilseed and grain production, according to the report.

Honoring Veterans

Those serving in the Vietnam War were not showered with gratitude upon coming home. Hill recalls preparing to go back to Iowa on leave in 1974, where they were instructed not to appear publicly in uniform. 

However, he’s delighted to see the way the country honors veterans today.

“I love the way the soldiers get recognized and applauded now – they deserve that,” says Hill, a lifetime member of the American Legion. “But the Vietnam-era GIs never had this.”

Steps are being taken to recognize those who served in the military, including Vietnam veterans, such as through Honor Flights. Hill experienced an Honor Flight, which took him and others to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments erected in honor of those like him and others who served their country.

Grateful for his opportunity to farm after serving his country, Hill is a founding member of Iowa’s Veterans in Agriculture program, which helps veterans get their foothold in agriculture.

In some ways, being in the service shares some of the same qualities as a farmer, he says.

“The service, no matter what branch you’re in, is very regimented,” Hill says. “You have a specific job to do, a time to do it, and you train to do it.”

Farming is sort of the same way, though training exercises aren’t quite like those Hill experienced.

“You know that going into the spring, you have to be prepared with your seed and crop protection,” Hill says. “You know how you’re going to proceed, and you have a set way you’re going to do it, kind of like the Army does.”

Hill credits his military service for growing his leadership skills and broadening his perspectives of how to work with others who might not think the same. Experience as a leader, in gauging his platoon's thoughts on tactics, has run parallel to several experiences in civilian life. 

“Looking back, I think probably my Army experience helped me as the mayor to be the even keel so everyone could voice their opinions and do what’s best for the town,” Hill says.

He's used this military training in civilian life as a board member for ISA, ASA and the Iowa Farm Bureau.

“Whether you’re the ammo bearer in the Army or a leader in the organization, you do what it takes to be successful and accomplish your mission,” he adds.