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By Doc Watson
Special to the Herald Times
MEEKER | The Herald Times was privileged once again to sit down with another of Meeker’s local military veterans, former Army Sergeant Ken Culler, the husband of Brenda Culler, whose story (along with three other veterans) was told back in the Oct. 2 issue in honor of Veterans Day.
Growing up in Coal Creek Canyon, Ken actually first met Brenda in 1980. While working crowd control in the youth division of the JeffCo Sheriff’s Office, he saw this “cute girl” who was a member of the famous Westernaires youth drill team (founded in 1949).
Going their separate ways in 1982 when Brenda joined the Army—Ken served from 1984 to 1996—they reconnected when they both were called up for Desert Shield (and Storm) in 1990 and ended up in the same Military Police unit.
The most critical incident for both of them came while they were working in an EPW (Enemy Prisoner of War) camp. As their unit was separating prisoners in a valley, some Saudi Arabian troops observing from a knoll got upset because they saw members of the Iraqi Republican Guard causing turmoil. Not knowing where the Americans were in the crowd, they just started shooting.
Seeing what was happening, Culler jumped on top of his vehicle and started yelling to his unit to “hit the dirt!” While unit members, including his future wife Brenda, “rolled under their deuce-and-a-half” (an M35 series, 2½-ton, 6×6 cargo truck), Culler and his sergeant-major “laid down fire and took out the machine nest” and then called in support.
It was because of those acts of valor that Culler received the Bronze Star, a medal awarded for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone. For an act of valor, however, the “V” device is added to the uniform ribbon to set it apart.
Another potentially disastrous incident occurred when Culler and three other members of the unit were on their way to attend a special briefing. As they sped across the desert in their Humvee, they struck a land mine.
“We were in one of the really good Humvees,” Culler recalled. “The passenger compartment stayed intact; the rest of the vehicle was all over the place.”
“When another unit came across the scene, they found the four of us in front of what used to be our vehicle arguing (about) where in Fort Carson we were because we didn’t recognize the landscape,” he said.
Needless to say, they were medevaced out and spent a few days in the hospital.
Culler also spent 10 days in Kuwait during the oil well fires. “I’ve never been that miserable,” he said. “At noon it was like midnight.”
At a decontamination site, the soldiers went one way and their vehicles were taken in another. While the vehicles were being “deconed,” the soldiers had to strip down, their uniforms burned, and their bodies scrubbed virtually raw.
At one point, Culler asked the commanding lieutenant-colonel, “Sir, you deconed my truck, burned my uniform, scrubbed my body, but what about the stuff I breathed in?” “Oh, don’t worry about that,” the commander said. The only response Culler could muster was a veiled sarcastic, “Thank you, sir.”
At a base in Saudi Arabia, Culler also experienced gas attacks. Among others, the Iraqis used sarin nerve gas and mustard gas, the latter of which was used extensively in World War I and several conflicts after. In 1993 the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention, which called for the complete destruction of all specified stockpiles of chemical weapons, was signed by 162 member countries. As of 2016, about 90 percent of the stockpiles have been destroyed, Iraq has yet to start destruction.
At that same base, Culler also endured SCUD missile attacks. The SCUD was developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and exported extensively to Second and Third World countries.
Culler also spent some life changing time in Panama. On one particular Saturday, his supervisor asked if he would help him with something. They loaded a pickup truck with dry goods and drove about three hours south of Panama City. Arriving at a remote compound, they stopped, unloaded the truck, drove about 10 yards away, and just waited. A man appeared with a white cloth covering his entire body. This was a leper colony of some 200 people.
“My supervisor had been doing this for years, and I joined him every Saturday for the four months I was there,” Culler said. “It was the coolest thing in the world, and I have always wondered what happened to them after we pulled out of Panama. That was a very humbling experience.”
Those experiences, and others, greatly affected Culler’s career choice after leaving the military. When he decided on firefighting and EMS, his interviewer, who later became his partner, asked him why he wanted to be an EMT, to which he answered, “My goal is to save more lives than I took.” He is gratified that he did, indeed, meet that goal.
All that, in fact, led to another concern Culler had. Because he worked on many Thanksgivings and Christmases in EMS work and had always been deployed over the holidays in the military, he understood the loneliness and disconnection that many face at those times.
So, as a result of his vision and efforts, along with support from many in our community, there will be a get together at the VFW/Lions Club building on Christmas Day for those who need it. It will open about 9:30 a.m. with cinnamon rolls to snack on. Entertainment will include card and board games and Christmas movies. The first main meal of turkey and all the “fixin’s” will be ready at 2 p.m. and another around 5 p.m. Food will also be delivered to the Sheriff’s Office for those on patrol and even the inmates.
Culler’s plan is to make this an annual event, and he hopes the idea will catch on in Rangely and other communities. Donations are appreciated, but no money will be charged.
So, while some folks choose to be alone on that day, they don’t have to be. Here is yet another gift from our veterans.