U.S. Army Maj. Jeff Donahue may be from up Route 9 in Wappingers Falls, NY, but he’s a longtime fan of Martin Brodeur. On the night the New Jersey Devils retired the legendary goaltender’s No. 30 jersey, the team also celebrated the 12-year-serviceman as its Hero of the Game on February 9.
“I saw his last game here, almost two years ago,” Donahue said. “When I was playing JV hockey and varsity, he was pretty big.” Donahue played left wing and defense for Roy C. Ketcham High School in his hometown. Growing up in another team’s territory, Donahue, now 35, explained he became a Brodeur fan because he was identifiable. “Everybody knows the goalies, at least the big ones…they’re really the most important players on the ice,” Donahue said. “If the goalie is having a bad night, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, and if they’re in the zone, that’s it.”
Donahue comes from a family of military service. Both of his grandfathers served in the Army, and his father, stepfather and brother served in the U.S. Air Force. During World War II, Donahue explained that some of his great uncles served in the U.S. Navy as well. In 2004, when he was 23, he joined the Army after pursuing education at Virginia Military Institute. “I wanted to serve my country,” Donahue explained. “And I was already a cadet when 9/11 happened.”
Donahue’s grandfather, William Hocutt, inspired his service. “I wanted to follow in his footsteps and emulate him, especially the way he lived his life,” Donahue described. “He said he got all of that from the military.” Donahue had been interested in the Air Force, but wore glasses, which prevented him from flying. “The next best thing is the Army, unless you want to fly a desk,” Donahue joked, before explaining that the Army offered more exciting options.
Following training at Fort Knox and Fort Hood, Donahue was deployed to Iraq for the first time from November 2005 until November 2006. After returning, Donahue completed a Captains Career Course before reuniting with his unit and becoming a cavalry troop commander. Donahue would later deploy back to Iraq in August 2008, and to Afghanistan in June 2011.
Donahue described his first tour in Iraq as “kinetic,” explaining, “there were a lot of IEDs, a lot of fighting, action every day.” In January of that first trip, Donahue was part of a patrol going to Karbala, when after hearing an explosion, found a humvee engulfed in flames. “By the time I got up to them, I honestly thought I had lost five soldiers, but two of them had gotten out, and we were able to get the rest out and call a medevac.” For his actions, Donahue was awarded an Army Commendation Medal, which he said is his most meaningful of many medals. He said his combat action badge was also meaningful, as it is only awarded to troops who face combat with enemies.
Donahue also received the Purple Heart, which he jokingly called an “enemy marksman medal.” Donahue explained that it’s not so much awarded as received for being wounded in combat. “It always gets a lot of hype though.”
On the second trip to Iraq, when Donahue was based in Al Hillah, next to the ancient city of Babylon, he said it was a much more peaceful experience. “In the time after we left, the Iraqi military and police force had made a lot of advancements.” When he was sent to Afghanistan, Donahue trained two police chiefs and helped train an Afghan Army battalion.
Donahue said he was honored to be recognized by the Devils in a game. “It’s a good feeling to get the phone call,” Donahue said, explaining how he learned he’d be celebrated. “It’s great to see military members honored.”