By Kathleen Knowles
Originally Published on November 22nd, 2018
Born August 22, 1969, to James and Donna Howard, James David Howard Jr. grew up in Port Huron, Michigan. He has one sister, Michelle Howard Ainsworth. Educated at Thomas Edison Elementary and Fort Gratiot Intermediate, Jim graduated from Port Huron Northern High School in June of 1987.
For his 12th grade year at Port Huron Northern, Jim decided to enroll in college-prep courses, preparing to enter college in the fall. However, coming from a family of men who had served the nation, (both his father and grandfather served in the United States Navy), he was destined to follow in their footsteps. In the summer of 1986, Jim went down to the local Military Recruitment Center with a friend. Although his family had a history with the Navy, he found himself gravitating not towards the Navy, but the Army. That branch made guarantees to him the others had not. James Howard signed on the dotted line and found himself the property of the United States Army before he entered his senior year at high school.
After graduating from Port Huron Northern, Mr. Howard entered the Army in September of 1987. He attended boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Jim had been promoted to Private E2 before he actually entered the service, having recruited two people. Upon completion of basic training, Jim headed to Fort Gordon, Georgia for electronics training.
The Army trained him to be an aviation, navigation, and flight control technician. He was trained on the helicopter flight control and computer systems.
After graduating from electronics school, Mr. Howard was stationed in Nellingen, Germany. He did depot level support. If helicopters needed repair, they came into Nellingen. For two years he works nine to five repairing equipment. Jim recalls that while he was there the wall between East and West Germany came down.
Jim then came back to the United States where he received orders for Fort Hood, Texas. Never seeing duty there, his orders were changed three months before he was set to return to the States. Special Operations, Fort Campbell, Kentucky had requested his services. Before going to Fort Campbell, Jim had a thirty-day leave. During that time Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, a strategic location and ally of the United States. President George H.W. Bush ordered American troops to the region.
When Jim arrived in Kentucky, the base was preparing to ship out for Desert Shield. The 3rd Battalion had already headed for the The Middle East. Jim found himself part of a task force. His job was to modify the aircraft to improve its efficiency and survivability. Keeping an eye on the situation, the conflict with Saddam Hussein was escalating. The 1st Battalion shipped out in January and was assigned the task to go in and take out radar installations for the rest of the Air Force to come in with no issues. Helicopters obviously could fly lower, hence the reason the 1st Battalion went in ahead of them.
In an attempt to break up the coalition, Hussein began firing Scud missiles into Israel, trying to draw them into the conflict. The Air Force was attempting to hunt down the scuds to prevent them from launching. It was determined they needed the expertise of Jim’s unit, as their aircraft could fly further into the desert and stay out longer. Due to its size, the Chinook could carry more equipment and men. They deployed to the Middle East to neutralize the scud missiles, thereby preventing the entrance of Israel into the conflict.
While there, Jim had both a day and night job. During the day, he would turn on the helicopters and check out the systems, uploading the codes to the aircraft, which would change on a daily basis so that each aircraft could talk to the others. At night, Jim was part of a small elite special forces group, which went scud hunting and lased targets for the Air Force —- which means they would “paint a picture” with a laser on high-value targets to be destroyed. The Air Force could then follow the laser trail in and destroy the target. That could include installations or high ranking members of the enemy forces. They were known as the Night Stalkers since they did most of their work at night.
Like most armed forces members, Jim was not willing to talk about very much when it came to the war itself. He did share a bit about how it felt to be in combat. “When you are faced with a combat situation that puts you and those around you in jeopardy, your senses become heightened and your situational awareness becomes that much more. You didn’t sleep much, and when you did, it was with a rifle.”
When asked if he thought President Bush should have ordered the military to go in and take out Saddam Hussein, Jim said, “I believe his decision to be the correct one. We did not have the consensus of our allies, nor were we prepared to do so. There would have been a lot more casualties on the American side as well as collateral damage on the side of the enemy. There wasn’t any plan or clearly defined strategy to go forward. It just wasn’t the right time, even though we felt like that was what we wanted to do. You have to have a plan going in and one going out an exit strategy.”
When his time was up in the Army, Jim got out early for college (one month). He had been scheduled to leave in September of 1991, but classes at St. Clair County Community College started in August. After applying for an early out to attend the fall classes, he received an honorable discharge.
Jim started college with the desire to receive a duo major in electrical electronic engineering. After only a week of school, he realized he didn’t want to study the chemistry and math required. Jim switched his major to business. Mr. Howard applied for a part-time job working for US Customs. After going through a background check, he began as a customs officer to help support his schooling.
Changing his business major brought about another major change in his life. One of his classmates in his accounting class was Shelly McCrabb, a resident of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Jim admitted to making what he described as an “off-comment” to a buddy in class and worried that Shelly may have heard him. He introduced himself and apologized to her. They got to know each other in class, and Jim soon asked Shelly out Labor Day weekend in 1992. He recalls that time. “When I went home, I told my Mom I had met the woman I was going to marry.” He purchased a ring right away and proposed in January 1993. They decided they weren’t going to get married until they both finished school.
After Jim finished at St. Clair Community College, he enrolled at Walsh College and graduated in the spring of 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, which focused on computer information systems. Shelly graduated from Walsh in December of the same year. The couple was married in September 1996. They have two boys. Curtis, 17, is a junior in high school and Josh, 12, is in 8th grade in middle school.
Jim worked for EDS Hewlett-Packard for twenty years before moving over to contract computers for Chrysler FCA, where he remains today.
Through the years, Mr. Howard has had the same problem as other veterans. He remembered when he returned home, one of his cousins was excited he was back. “I was sleeping when he arrived, and he wanted to wake me. My Dad stopped him and took him out of my room. When you have been in combat in a war, as I mentioned your senses are heightened. Upon your return home, that is still with you. You still react like you did when you were there. Some do this for only a short period of time, and other vets, for the rest of their lives. Some of the things I saw, some of the things I did and the training prepared me, but nothing ever completely prepares you for what you face. Because of that, there have been times in my life, even now where certain emotions, visuals, events or even something from a movie that will trigger flashbacks.”
Jim spoke of one trigger. “When I got out, it took me a while before I could go see fireworks. When you have been in a combat situation, the noise can trigger a flashback. I could not handle the loud explosive sound of the fireworks. It triggered memories such as the time we were accidentally hit by friendly fire. Fortunately, no one was hurt. The shed looked like it had been sprayed with bee bees. There were holes all in it. The antenna and radar had been obliterated.
Like many vets, Jim has sought out the help of the Veterans Administration to help with his PTSD. They have deemed him as having a disability due to some of the things he has done or come in contact with. It has helped him handle in his mind what he went through and the environment he was in. For example, Jim explains, “I was helping unload an aircraft with my buddy. Because of the noise, we could not really hear anything around us. I looked over and saw one of the Air Force guys with his gas mask on and then another also wearing one. Here we were without ours. We had not been alerted something was going on. I looked up and there were scud missiles being blown up right overhead. We had no idea what was in those scud missiles.”
Jim said the thought of chemical weapons being used on them was always a fear. “We always carried what they called nerve agent pills. We didn’t know what those pills would do to us. If you came in contact with a biological chemical weapon, I think it was meant to sustain or prolong until you could get help. That is my take on them anyway. We were also given atropine injectors, a stimulant for the heart. Those were in addition to what they injected in us before we went over.”
The horrors of war stay with you. Jim spoke of a man that slept in the same tent as he. “The man had seen combat in Vietnam. When he slept, there were times we had to take his weapon away from him. He had flashbacks and nightmares. He would wake in the middle of the night screaming.” When asked if he himself dreamed of Desert Storm, Jim admitted, “I do. It is a memory that is ingrained in you. It was a part of my life experiences, so it is there.”
When he initially reached out to the VA, he was told he was fine; he didn’t need help. Two years later, they called to set an appointment. When he asked what changed as he had been told he did not need help, they told him he came up as a priority. To this day, he has no idea what that meant. He speculated that it may have been the Scud missiles that were being taken out around them on a daily basis. They were in a hangar one night and heard what sounded like wind chimes.
He went to the doors where one of the officers was standing. He told Jim to go back inside. Scud missiles were being blown up above them. The sound he had been hearing was the patriot missiles. They were rattling the roof of the hangar which sounded like wind chimes. He questioned if it could have been the fuel he was around or the electronics which had a lot of high energy radiation radio waves. “Who knows what I may have come in contact with that would make me a priority?”
When it comes to a young person considering choosing the military, he would definitely help them to make a decision. “When you choose to join the military, you are giving up your freedom so that others can continue to enjoy theirs. I am happy there are those willing to make that decision. If sent into combat, they may have to take a life to save others. It really is a heroic decision. I personally do not regret making it.” If he had to do it all over again, Jim said he would not change a thing. He would still go into the Army knowing what he knows today.
Mr. Howard believes it has gotten better today in the way veterans are treated and cared for after they come home. To illustrate, he pointed out the way Vietnam vets were treated was poor compared to that of the Desert Storm vets. When Jim came home he had the privilege of representing his unit in a parade in Washington DC. They marched down the street with General Norman Schwarzkopf. After the parade, it was followed by one in New York. Emotionally, with tears in his eyes, Jim Howard remembered Vietnam and World War II vets standing there paying their respects and honoring the Desert Storm veterans. Hardly able to get the words out, Jim said, “It’s ironic. Those guys deserved this more than we did. We didn’t go through half of what they did, and they were thanking us!”
“When marching down the street, General Schwarzkopf stopped us in front of the viewing stands. While he and Colin Powell went up to greet President Bush, I looked up at the twin towers. They were massive.” Jim had no way of knowing they would be destroyed several years later by terrorists, bringing about another generation of service men and women, once again called upon to defend freedom.
Freedom…..a word we all take for granted. Yet, over the rich and proud history of the United States of America, freedom has never been free. The finest America has to offer has stepped up time and again to defend our right to live in freedom, to be free from
tyranny and to make choices many of our service members were never able to make because they paid for our freedom with their lives.
“Land of the Free because of the Brave”
Jim Howard was fortunate to return home. We owe him and all others like him a debt of gratitude for their sacrifice so they and those who lost their lives will never be forgotten. Take the time to thank a veteran. It will be a small gesture on your part in tribute to our heroes who have sacrificed so much more than we will ever know.
Thank you Blue Water Healthy Living for honoring our unsung heroes!
Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.
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