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Veteran Says Remember Those Still Serving

When Lt. Col. Ken Powell of the Army Reserve’s 3rd PersonnelCommand returned home from supporting Operation Enduring Freedom inIraq, his wife didn’t recognize him.

Seventy pounds lighter and looking haggard from going more than48 hours without sleep, Powell watched his wife and 17 otherBrookhaven residents enter the unit’s headquarters in Jackson togreet him. He had to approach them and, even then, it wasn’t untilhe spoke that he was recognized.

After the initial greetings and hugs, there was “an awkwardsilence.”

“Later, I found out because of the way I looked — I didn’t looklike myself — they were afraid I had contracted some exoticillness,” Powell said and laughed. “We all get a chuckle about thatwhen we talk about it now.”

When they were on the way home, he said, he was stunned to seesigns posted along Brookway Boulevard and other streets welcominghim back.

“I was humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support,” hesaid. “I want everyone to know how much I really appreciatethat.”

Powell was called up and deployed to Fort Benning, Ga., on Jan.6. He arrived in Iraq on Feb. 2 and spent nearly four months inBaghdad from April to July.

The 3rd Personnel Command was responsible for personnelmanagement, accountability, casualty reporting, issuing movementorders, personnel replacement, and the mail, Powell said.

The mail system, he said, was a big challenge because of thesheer volume being sent to service men in the theater ofoperations. They had to request Americans not send “Any ServiceMember” mail because they were already overwhelmed with carepackages being sent by the families. Any that were sent werehandled, though.

“The packages were well appreciated by everyone, but it wassomewhat overwhelming,” Powell said. “Even though it seemed we hada lot the last time (during Operations Desert Shield/Storm), we hada lot more this time.”

Another challenge facing the unit, he said, was to keep thelogistics tail advancing with the lead elements.

“It was a monstrous operation,” in terms of the size of thetheater of operations, number of troops, and speed of advance.

Powell said he was surprised to be located near Brookhaven’s296th Transportation Company, if only for a short time. He visitedthe unit several times and met with friends.

Powell commanded the 296th for 4.5 years, from March 1988 toAugust 1992, and spent seven months in the Persian Gulf with themduring Operations Desert Shield/Storm.

Powell made it home before the 296th and managed to be therewhen the unit returned home Sept. 6. He praised them for their workduring their deployment.

The return of many of Brookhaven’s service men and women maytake the local focus from Iraq, he said, but people shouldn’tforget that many soldiers remain there while the nationrebuilds.

“When I think about the boys still over there or the ones whosuffered or sacrificed so much more than I, the attention I get ishumbling,” he said. “It’s important for people to hear andunderstand that our men and women over there are doing a hard jobunder difficult and dangerous circumstances. I hope everyone willcontinue to support the troops that are there. That is vital.”

Among those still “in country” are approximately 125 soldiers ofthe 3rd Personnel Command’s Detachment 7, composed predominantly ofMississippi soldiers, he said. He expected them to be in Iraq forat least 2-5 months more.

“I think given that it will be a long-term effort (to rebuildIraq), people need to be given the opportunity to hear about thepeople still serving over there. We can’t forget they are stillthere,” Powell said. “We’d like to cut the switch off and everyonecome home together, but it obviously can’t happen that way.”

Since his return, Powell said he has been spending a lot of timewith his wife, Sherry, and children, Joy, 16, and Jamison, 11.

“It’s good to get back to some semblance of normal life,” hesaid, but added that his conception of “normal” life has beenchanged by his recent deployment. “I don’t want to see some thingsgo back to normal the way it was.”

He intends to spend more time with his family and friends thanin the past, he said, and focus more on the things that reallymatter and enjoy life a little more. He often sits on the frontporch now simply gazing out across the yard and admiring thelandscape or watching wildlife.