Saturday, July 05, 2003
Veteran to celebrate holiday on U.S. soil
By LIZ JONES
SNS Staff Writer
U.S. Army Col. Tony Puckett, second from left, discusses a security plan with Col. Micky Freeland at the Al Tuwaithe Nuclear Research Facility in Iraq. Puckett, a Shawnee native, recently returned to Fort Sill from Iraq.
One Shawnee Army officer will celebrate this Independence Day on American soil after spending six months in the Persian Gulf region and Iraq.
Col. Tony Puckett, a Shawnee native, returned to Fort Sill from Iraq on June 16.
A 1976 Shawnee High School graduate, Puckett dreamed of a military career in high school, a dream that began to come true when he received a congressional appointment to West Point.
Puckett, who also served in Operation Desert Storm, was deployed overseas Jan. 13 and was sent to Iraq April 20.
"We've had a lot of technological advances since (the first Gulf War)," Puckett said, although living conditions for most troops had not improved since the 1991 war.
Puckett spent time at Camp Doha near Kuwait City and in one of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's presidential palaces in Baghdad. He lived and worked in the palace compound, which was larger than the Oklahoma State Capitol, Puckett said.
The palace, one of many across Iraq, had no windows and no utilities when they moved in, Puckett said. The heat was stifling and they slept under mosquito nets.
Soon, though, the windows were replaced and electricity and water restored.
"It was fantastic architecture and materials in the building," Puckett said, but added that the decor consisted of "just gaudy cheap furniture."
Furniture was made of cheap plastic, appliances were painted gold and artwork and decorations were garish, he said. The palace was topped with four large bronze likenesses of Hussein's head.
Puckett said he saw little combat when he arrived in Baghdad, but did experience bombings at Camp Doha.
He said he had a close call in Baghdad when a looter attacked him with a bayonet.
"I didn't have my weapon out." Puckett said he disarmed the attacker, who was then taken into custody.
Even so, Puckett said, he did not fear for his life but instead concentrated on the task at hand.
"You never think those kind of thoughts," he said.
Still, combat can take an emotional toll, he said. "It's not something personal to you ... it's an all-encompassing emotional trauma," he said, comparing it to the nationwide pain that followed the Sept. 11, 2002, terror attacks.
Another difficulty was the separation from his wife and daughters.
Puckett said the Army has a good family support system and he was able to keep in close contact with his family.
"They've become used to it," said the officer, who in his 23-year time in the Army has also spent time in Bosnia, Panama, Namibia and Italy.
"You miss your family dearly," he said, "but this is what we spend our careers training to do."