• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Nov. 9, 2009
ST. CHARLES – Mark Powell, 48, of St. Charles, knows his days of flying military helicopters are over.
“In the states,” Powell said, “you can’t rent out a helicopter and fly 100 mph over the trees calling in air strikes.
But, the longtime member of the U.S. Army was glad for the time he did have in the service.
“It was probably one of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had,” Powell said.
Powell is a Persian Gulf War veteran who also is the post commander of St. Charles VFW Post 5036. He was active in the U.S. Army from 1980-82, 1986-95 and 2005-07, when he was stateside training Reserve and Guard soldiers.
Powell grew up as an Army brat in the Panama Canal Zone, where his dad was stationed. He knew early on that the military life was for him.
“I just wanted to go out in the world and see it,” Powell said. “I saw some guy on TV jumping out of a plane and that looks like a lot of fun when you’re 18.”
His first enlistment was in Germany, he said, guarding nuclear weapons. After that, he went to college, joined ROTC, and came back as an officer. However, the helicopters he watched flying overhead in his stint in Germany shaped his decision on what he wanted to do next.
When he re-enlisted in 1986, he knew he was going to take to the skies, and he did just that as part of the Combat Aviation Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, flying helicopters – UH1s and Scouts mostly – taking people and equipment where needed.
He saw combat in 1990 with the Persian Gulf War. He was in the Persian Gulf area for 10 months – five getting ready, one fighting, and four afterward.
“When the ground war started,” Powell said, “people were so tired of being in the desert for five months, we were just ready to get it over with.”
The resulting conflict, Powell said, was anti-climactic as coalition forces swept through Kuwait and then a good chunk or Iraq before stopping short of Baghdad. A big difference from the current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Powell points out.
“We were in a threatened environment for maybe a month,” Powell said. “They’re in one every single day. That’s a huge difference.”
And, accordingly, Powell will be thinking about those soldiers on Veterans Day.
“My hope is that I find people taking a moment on Veterans Day for those who are in harms way today,” Powell said.