By Kelly Alexander
Ken Powers is originally from the state of Massachusettes. Transplanted in his early teens to the New Haven area, he lived with his mom and was involved with the civil air patrol for two years when he was in junior high school. In his junior and senior years in high school, he also volunteered his time with the fire department in New Haven.
Powers was an average high school kid who had developed an interest in the military. In his junior year, he enlisted and by his senior year, he had already finished basic training in the US Army at Ft. Leonard Wood. He graduated school in May of 1989 and by that September, he had completed truck driving school as well.
Powers has always been a fan of the TV series M.A.S.H. and said he also watched Private Benjamin, but was in for quite the “culture shock” when he joined the real Army, admitting the shows aren’t really like the real thing.
His first orders were to go to Ft. Dix in New Jersey, but much to the dismay of other members of his unit who were hoping for him to score Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts in New York City on his first pass, his orders were changed and he remained at Ft. Leonard Wood.
In truck driving school, he learned to drive a big rig hauling ammunition and mail. Once, he realized he had been hauling some white phosphorus rounds stamped with a date of April 1945, which was right about the time one of his grandfathers was discharged from the Merchant Marines after WWII. “I was counting my blessings real quick,” he said. There weren’t many vehicles Powers couldn’t drive by the end of his 8-year enlistment and says his Army driver’s license stood a few inches thick when all was said and done.
In January of 1990, Powers was deployed to Saudi Arabia. He was 19 years old. The day he left Lambert Airport, the weather in St. Louis was below zero and there was ice on the ground. Twenty-three hours later, he arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia which was definitely not cold, nor icy. Stationed just off the Persian Gulf, he served with the 1221st Transportation Company, the men fell asleep nightly to the melody of battleship fire from the USS Missouri and the USS Wisconsin. He says he feels very fortunate to have served with such an outstanding unit and gives credit to his knowledgable instructors. “I could not have picked a better unit to go over there with.” He joked that he thought drivers on the East Coast of the states were bad until he got a taste of what Saudi drivers would do to get around a transportation vehicle.
The closest neighbors out there in the desert was a British Army unit who would sometimes join the American unit for bon fires and to socialize. “It didn’t matter who you were or where you were from, we were all over there to do a job,” Powers said.
He recalls making many collect phone calls from Saudi to keep in touch with his family. He says his mother was sure there was a wing dedicated to Powers at AT&T from all the collect calls he made. But the most memorable call was to his grandfather who had ended up in the hospital. Surprisingly, the hospital accepted the collect call from the young GI. “My Grandfather thought Saddam was calling to ask him what he would do,” he chuckles. But all joking aside, Powers says that up until the day he died, his Granddad always talked about that call. “No doctors could have done for him what that phone call did,” he said. He has kept all of the letters that he received while serving in Desert Shield/Desert Storm as those were the things from home that all the men looked forward to getting. “Mail and phone calls were gold,” he says. Powers said if you ask him who his heroes are, he would say it was the cooks for always having hot coffee and somewhat of a meal ready for the men when they’d have to scramble around getting ready to head out on their runs.
He did get to experience other places on his way back home like Heathrow Airport in London where he was escorted to the restroom by some very heavily armed police guards that he wouldn’t have wanted to “tick off” and he says he saw the greenest grass he’d ever seen when they made a stop in Ireland and although he never got off the plane, he still can say he’s been to Italy.
In his collection of memorabilia, he also has saved some very interesting looking Saudi money and some receipts for laundry sent out. He bought and brought back with him a shiny blue “Desert Storm” jacket with his name in Arabic on the front. “Yeah,” he said. “I spent way too much money over there.” It is just one of the jackets he keeps in his closets with his Army uniform. Some of his other prized jackets reveal he is a fan of the Patriots and of the Red Sox. But the jacket he says he is most proud to wear however, is the one he dons for the Honor Guard for the Washington VFW Post for which he is a lifetime member and has been for nearly 20 years.
He does not regret anything about going into the Army. However, he does have a regret for not staying in and being retired by this time.
His work history is compiled of experience fueling planes at Lambert, dispatching for Franklin County and he also worked for FedEx Ground. He was encouraged by a friend to take an exam to become a correctional officer. “I didn’t think I’d be doing it for five years, let alone eleven,” stating that he’s been blessed to have been able to work with some incredible people at The Missouri Correction Facility in Pacific which holds some 1,100 inmates.
Powers was willing to share his photo albums, but admits it is still hard for him to look at them. “For anyone who says war doesn’t change a person…they’re full of it.”
He looks at things a lot differently than he used to. He never thought he’d get married, but he is now three years married to Karen, from Sullivan (a Cardinal fan) and has a stepson and a dog and he says he just can’t imagine life without them.