Fairbanks guardsman keeps Sherpas flying

51-year-old man completes third overseas deployment, expects one more

Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2010

FAIRBANKS - It was a war in Iraq that first drew Staff Sgt. William Powell to the Army National Guard.

And 18 years later, it's war in Iraq that keeps him there.

Powell, 51, was one of 30 Army guardsmen who returned to Alaska last month after a nine-month deployment to Iraq. It was his third overseas deployment, and second to Iraq.

The lifelong Fairbanks resident was the only Interior guardsmen from F Company, ½07th Aviation, which transported cargo, equipment and personnel across Kuwait and Iraq using C-23 fixed wing aircraft, also known as Sherpas.

As a flight engineer, it's Powell's job to help keep the Sherpas flying.

"I love it," said Powell, who figures he has about three years left with the Guard. "It's something I'll miss very much when I get out."

While most guardsmen decide to join out of high school or college, Powell came to the Guard late, at 33. He said he hadn't thought much about a military career when he was younger, but he felt a patriotic urge to enlist when the first Gulf War broke out.

"Back when I was coming out of high school I hadn't thought about it much, but when Desert Storm happened, I thought it was time to join," he said.

One of the thing that appealed to Powell most about the Guard, is that it allowed him to continue to work at Golden Heart Utilities, where he has been a pipefitter for 33 years.

"You should think about a career in the Guard if you're not sure you want to be full-time," he said. "But you get every benefit of being full-time and the chance to learn a new skill."

Powell, a graduate of Lathrop High School, has three deployments under his belt after he returned to Alaska last month. His first deployment, to Kosovo in 2004, was the hardest, but he said each one has gotten a little bit easier, especially as his five children have gotten older. His youngest is now 21.

"You need to make sure the car's running and in good order and anything that needs to be done around the house, make sure it's done before you're deployed," he said. "Fairbanks can get cold and unforgiving."

Powell expects he'll be deployed one more time before he leaves the guard, though he's not sure where that might be as the military begins its withdrawal from Iraq.

In the meantime, he plans on enjoying an outdoorsman's life of camping, hunting and fishing in Alaska.

"I love Alaska and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else," he said. "It's just such a vast country full of beautiful scenery."

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