Conrad Hauser, codename Duke, is the archetypical all-American boy. A trailer park kid from Missouri who missed out on the chance for an officer's commission in the army, he instead decided to serve his country by working his way up through the enlisted ranks, leading to his selection first for the Green Berets, and then to become a founding member of the secretive mission force G.I. Joe.
The loyalty and respect Duke was able to command amongst his fellows made him stand out among his fellows, eventually leading to him being made commanding officer of the G.I. Joe team; and when the unit was reformed into a public-facing organisation, Duke's charisma and leadership talent made him a natural choice for its field commander. The only thing to distract from his exemplary service was an occasionally-fraught relationship with fellow Joe Scarlett, who Duke still had feelings for following a relationship in their past.
While Duke's past indiscretions led to him eventually being discharged from the Joes, his talents remained in high demand — first as a mercenary, then in service to the U.S. government once again. Though his new assignment puts him at odds with G.I. Joe's new leadership and international mandate, Duke sees it as his responsibility to put his country first.
The all-American boy
Accounts very on where in Missouri Conrad Hauser grew up. According to one source, he had an "all-American" upbringing in St. Louis; but another claims he grew up in Ozark Mobile Home Park in Arnold. Conrad is known to have had a sister, who would, as an adult, live in Spokane. As a youth, Conrad was a fan of Joe Colton's Adventure Team toys and the films of John Wayne, which carried over into his aspirations of joining the military as he grew up. However, his only hope of being granted an officer's commission was earning a recommendation to West Point; despite his hopes, he lost out, with his senator's recommendation instead going to a "townie orphan".
Though his then-girlfriend saw his rejection as an opportunity for them to go to community college together, Hauser had other plans; he instead joined the enlisted ranks of the United States Army, and was soon snatched up by the Army Special Forces thanks to his skill in unconventional warfare and knack for learning foreign languages and customs. During the Special Forces qualification course, Hauser met language instructor Aisha Ismat; he was instantly smitten with her, impressing her with his grasp of Arabic, and the two would eventually begin a romantic relationship.
Hauser's graduation from "Q Course" was presided over by Joe Colton and members of the Adventure Team.Following his graduation, Hauser served as a training instructor in Special Forces schools; his dynamic capabilities and the loyalty he was able to inspire caught the attention of the Army brass, leading to multiple offers of officers' commissions. However, Hauser's bitterness over not recieving the scholarship to West Point led to a distaste for the work of officers — something that prompted him to turn down the offers, preferring to serve on the front lines rather than behind them.
Conrad and Aisha continued their relationship, and were eventually married. However, discovering that Aisha had applied to transfer to Trucial — her family's home country, where Conrad was also being deployed — as a translator, Conrad was worried about her safety (and his, if she was there with him and making his heart skip); as such, he had his commanding officer at West Point, General Flagg, block the transfer on the basis that Aisha was too valuable at the language school. Aisha was furious, and stopped talking to her husband.
In the Trucial states, Hauser served as a drill sergeant for Trucial National Army soldiers at Joint Training Camp "Saladin". During one instance, First Sergeant Hauser was in command of a checkpoint in the "disputed zone", when Sergeant Monk summarily executed surrendering men who he believed to be insurgents who had murdered his men in the past. Hauser beat Monk in retaliation and had him arrested, before calling for a medic for the men; as he tried to save the life of their leader, Sheik Daud, the dying man confessed to being a heroin smuggler who had wanted to "teach Monk a lesson" for disrupting their supply lines. In gratitude for Hauser trying to save his family, Daud directed the soldier to a nearby cache, though he died without answering whether or not he attacked Monk's convoy. Upon investigating the location Daud had sent him to, Hauser discovered an enormous cache of American currency, which he did not report to his superiors.
At some point, Hauser earned a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. After some time in Trucial, Hauser was introduced to camp "Saladin"'s newest translator... Aisha, who was sent after Flagg was overruled due to the dire need for more translators. Despite his concerns, Conrad was unable to hide the fact that he was happy to see her.
While travelling with Aisha in a military convoy, Conrad confessed to her the way she distracted him and made him "skip a beat", and that he was worried for their safety with her in the country. His distraction, however, allowed a group of insurgents to get the drop on the convoy, destroying their vehicle and badly injuring both Conrad and Aisha. While the insurgents' leader–Habar, a man Duke had trained for the Trucial National Army–taunted him, Hauser rallied against the insurgents, killing Habar and directing the surviving men to return fire, taking the fight to the enemy.
In the aftermath of the attack, Hauser was taken to a secure location, where asked a man named Hawk asked if he was "in or out" while assembling a pistol. When pressed, Hawk would only elaborate that he would be legally considered dead, and would be serving as the First Sergeant for an elite counter-terrorism strike force. After some reluctant deliberation, Hauser agreed that he was "in"; in return, Hauser was told to forget his old life and name, and was given the new name "Duke", a name that he thought was ridiculous. Before Hawk left, "Duke" asked whether the general would have shot him if he said no, but Hawk only replied cryptically that his people were the "good guys".
Medical examination revealed that Aisha had suffered catastrophic brain trauma, and was left catatonic and in need of 24-hour care. With few other options, Duke had her signed into North Shore Hospice in Oyster Bay, paying for her care with the stash of money that Daud had directed him to.