Chaz Haywood, an Army veteran who now serves as Rockingham Clerk of Court, will act as the grand marshal for HDR’s annual Veterans Parade — which will be downtown this Sunday from 3 p.m. until 4 p.m. We sat down with Haywood to hear more about his time in the military, how it prepared him for his role now and why he believes it’s important to make the history of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County accessible to all.
‘There’s so much more than just you in the military.’
Haywood said what’s shaped him most, by far, was his nine years in the Virginia Army National Guard.
“I was a long-haired hippie kid, I’d been living in a tent for about a year,” Haywood said. “I didn’t have a direction at all when I joined the Army, but it did so, so much for me.”
Haywood served from 1992 until 2001. He completed basic and advanced infantry training at Fort Benning in Georgia, began service as a dragon missile gunner and was a Top Gun Honor Graduate from Dragon Missile School in 1994. He served as the Retention NCO in his unit for his last few years of service, which entailed keeping check on the 120 members within his unit and ensuring that their mental health was being cared for.
Haywood said that serving as Retention NCO meant that he was in a position of power, and he wanted to use that power to speak up for others who didn’t have a voice.
“Maybe that was just another step of preparing me for taking care of my staff here or for taking care of the public,” Haywood said.
Haywood won Army Achievement and National Guard Commendation medals, as well as Division Soldier of the Year in 1998. Yet, when he was asked to lead this year’s Veterans Parade as the grand marshal, he said he questioned himself.
“When I was asked to be the grand marshal, I struggled with that from the military side because there are men and women who’ve done far more than me,” Haywood said. “They sacrificed more, gave more, suffered more, and I was peacetime.”
Haywood said he often thinks of veterans who lost limbs, lost friends and sacrificed their lives. He added that while he was always grateful for his time in the service, he struggled with guilt.
“I’ve only recently started to grasp the fact that it’s okay I didn’t lose anything. I lost time with my kids and loved ones — but I didn’t lose a limb, I didn’t lose friends until later because of PTSD,” Haywood said. “I didn’t have the level of loss that so many veterans have, and I would put them all in that truck up front and make them all the grand marshals if I could.”
Haywood said he decided to act as grand marshal because ultimately, this was another opportunity to use his power to help others. He said he looks forward to celebrating other veterans and wants to bring awareness to mental health programs, including a camping trip for veterans that aims to enhance mental wellbeing.
“I’m becoming prouder of my veteran status based upon what I’ve been able to do for people,” Haywood said. “People don’t always have a voice, and people don’t always listen. I’m in a position now where people listen to me, so I need to make sure I use my voice correctly.”
Serving the Community
Haywood graduated from James Madison University with a B.S. in political science in 1997. He’d planned to become a history teacher, but instead found himself drawn to roles in politics.
Haywood worked for both Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) for nearly a decade, then became legislative co-chair — and later, president — of the Virginia Court Clerks Association.
Haywood has served as the Rockingham County Circuit Court Clerk since 2008. The Code of Virginia lists over 800 responsibilities and duties for the Clerk, including filing all civil suits, filing criminal actions and issuing marriage licenses. But the most important job, Haywood said, is preserving history.
The Clerk’s Office is home to records that date back to 1778. Haywood said that as a long-time history buff, he hated to see them all sitting in boxes.
Since, he’s worked to digitize the Court’s records and has recently begun a biweekly series he dubbed “Clerk’s Corner,” which includes local stories taken from preserved, historic court records — or, in Haywood’s words, “local, historic true crime from the source.” The columns cover a span of legal topics and are written by a rotation of authors.
Haywood said his passion for sharing Harrisonburg and Rockingham County history comes from a desire to connect others. He shared a story about stumbling upon his own seventh-great-grandmother’s marriage license in the Court’s system and being baffled at the coincidence. Haywood had grown up in Idaho, but said this made him realize that he’s always been linked to the Friendly City — and many others likely have been, too.
“In a society where we feel so disconnected from everyone, history can connect us,” Haywood said. “I’m proud of the history that we have here, I’m proud that we’re telling the story, and I’m proud that we’re letting people know where they came from and what their connections are.”