By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | The Herald Times had the singular honor of sitting down with four of Meeker’s military veterans to remember, reminisce, and reflect on their service and share those thoughts in this tribute to Veterans Day. This two-part story is dedicated to them and every other Meeker resident who has served, or is serving, in our armed forces.
Present for this interview on Saturday, Oct. 28 at our VFW post 5843 were: Army Sergeants Anthony Mazzola, who served during the Cold War and was called back for Operation Desert Storm; Rob Baughman, who served in Vietnam (“and a few other places,” he added); and Brenda Culler, who served not only in Desert Storm but also in Operation Iraqi Freedom. The lone non-army veteran present was career Air Force Sergeant Wes Eubanks, who also served during the Cold War and Desert Storm, but Granada and Panama as well.
What each of these veterans did in the military—their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty)—is as diverse as one can imagine. Mazzola was a tanker who was among the privileged to transition from the M60 to the M1 Abrams tank, which is considered the finest in the world by far, even the much touted Russian T-72.
“I started off as a driver, then a gunner and finally up to tank commander,” he said. “When I was called back for Desert Storm in January of 1991, I ended up training reserve troops who had been out for quite awhile since I had only been out a few months. Because it was all over so quickly, I didn’t actually make it over to the ‘Sandbox,’ but we were sure ready to roll.”
Eubanks was a Technical Sergeant (TSgt), who was qualified to perform highly complex technical duties in addition to providing supervision. He started out as a mechanic on the famed B-52 bomber for the equally famous Strategic Air Command (SAC). He then went on to work on tankers (refueling planes) but wanted more.
“I got tired of it,” he said. “I wanted to go with the airplanes, so I cross-trained into flight engineer and did that for about 14 years.” A flight engineer is a highly specialized member of an aircraft’s flight crew who monitors and operates its complex aircraft systems. His past experience as a mechanic was an enormous help.
Baughman’s MOS and experience is equally unique. During basic training at Fort Lewis—“the most miserable two months of my life,” he said, which got a laugh from everyone—he “got real gung-ho and volunteered for airborne” but immediately thought better of that.
“So I went to MP (military police) school,” he said. “Toward the end of MP school, they came around looking for dog handlers. Dog handlers were exempt from KP, so they had me right there, but the downside was that being a dog handler was almost an automatic trip to Vietnam. I was a sentry dog handler there, so the only thing my dog was interested in was sniffing out bad guys. I also served at Fort Carson and in Germany, where I also did security work.”
Brenda Culler joined the Army right out of high school to be a flight operations specialist, who handles all the financial records for the pilots. When she got to her first duty station, however, she became more than that, ending up as the payroll clerk for the whole post. But then lo and behold, because she is a tall female, she received cross-training to become an MP.
“I was the only female MP (for awhile), so every time there was a domestic (disturbance), a female shoplifter, some little chick trying to get on post because she wants to be with her boyfriend or whatever, I had to do the female police thing,” she said.
After serving on that post, Fort Stewart in Georgia—affectionately called “Fort Swampy”—for two and half years, and then serving in Japan, Culler was discharged and started college, only to be recalled for Desert Storm with a National Guard unit.
“We did EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) camps. They surrendered in what seemed like the gazillions. We would load them onto a semi-truck or two, along with a Humvee with a machine gun.”
Once back at the camps, they separated the prisoners into categories, such as injured, possible threat, children, and so forth, for the purpose of gathering intelligence.
It was during one of those times that Culler had a close call. Some prisoners who were suspected of being Republican Guard started rioting because they thought they were being taken somewhere else to be punished. In response, Saudi Arabian soldiers started firing into the crowd, unaware that there were eight Americans in there. While the rest dove under the vehicles for cover, one MP, Ken Culler, Jr.—yes, Brenda’s eventual husband—got them to stop and received a Bronze Star.
“We were battle buddies in Desert Storm, reconnected via Facebook in late 2013 and have been married since June 2014,” she recalled.
After returning home and going back to work at the sheriff’s office, from which she received much help in readjusting, Culler remained in the Reserves and was deployed yet again for Iraqi Freedom.
“The day I landed in Iraq was the day they caught Saddam Hussein, so I take credit for that,” she said, soliciting the intended laugh from the group.
This time she helped set up a dispatch center so that any soldier could dial 9911 on their cell phone and get Culler at the emergency call center for help. After returning home in 2005, she went back yet again but this time as a civilian contractor doing the same job until 2011.
In part two of this story, we will learn more about combat experiences, medals and citations and how military service affected our veterans.
A memorable moment to this point, however, was the attitude of these four veterans concerning every person who serves, whether they saw combat or not. They all agreed that every person has a vital role, whether they deploy or are at home providing support.
By Doc Watson