Wednesday, August 8, 2012 —
Dedication. It’s one thing that’s high on Lt. Col. Stephen M. Howell’s list.
Dedication to his parents, Marshall and Brenda Howell of Norwood. Dedication to Whitney, his wife of more than 17 years, his daughter Rachael and son Huff. Dedication to God and his country, too.
Ever since he graduated from South Stanly High School, Howell has been serving his country. His journey began with the Army National Guard in Monroe and has stretched nearly 25 years through two tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), to his current position at the Joint Logistics Operation Center at Central Command, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. It was there that he recently received a promotion from major to lieutenant colonel.
“If someone had asked me what I would want in life, I could never have dreamed this up,” Howell said.
“The picture is not about Stephen Howell and the things I’ve accomplished. It started with my family, my foundation in Christ, and continued through going to college, meeting my wife, and making friends. From one level to the next, God has put great people in my life to help along the way. I’m very, very thankful for all of that.”
Most military personnel learn about their next assignment shortly before having to move. However, Howell recently found himself in the unique position of having advance notice. After completing his three-year assignment in Tampa, he and his family will move to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., next summer to take command of the 58th Transportation Battalion.
“The promotion rate from major to lieutenant colonel is 75 percent, but the selection rate for battalion command is 15 percent,” LTC Howell said.
“So it’s a good feeling and I praise God. I don’t take it for granted. It’s a special mark and not everyone gets that honor.”
His parents knew long before Howell left for basic training in Ft. Sill, Okla., on July 5, 1990, that he had a bright future ahead of him.
“He came home from high school, he was 17 years old. He said, ‘Dad, I want to join the North Carolina Army National Guard,’ and I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Yes. I am,’ ” Marshall Howell said.
“That was the hardest thing we’ve ever done, see him leave, see him watching us and we couldn’t follow him out because we were not able,” Brenda Howell said.
“We watched him go until he fell out of sight, then we both just fell apart.”
After returning that November from basic training, Howell took a little break, working at Piney Point Golf Club in Norwood and at Joel’s Seafood Restaurant in Anson County. One of the reasons he joined the military was to earn money for college. In the fall of 1991, he attended Methodist College (now Methodist University). It was there he met Whitney, who was a senior at the time.
“On March 29, 1992, we went on our first date,” Howell said.
“We dated long distance after she graduated that summer, and got married on June 3, 1995.”
Howell graduated from Methodist in 1995 with a bachelors degree in business administration. Later, he earned his masters degree in management from Webster University. His long-distance dating relationship with Whitney was good training for the many assignments that followed, including a deployment to Sinai, Egypt while they lived in Hawaii, then other assignments back on the East Coast before his first trip to Kuwait and Iraq.
During OIF I, Howell’s duties included transporting equipment from Kuwait to Iraq. He was there when U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein on Dec. 13, 2003, and returned for a second tour in 2007-08, when his unit was instrumental in the success of the surge. He earned the Bronze Star Medal for his combat service there.
“When I was in Iraq the first time, my wife’s mom was diagnosed with brain cancer and she died shortly after I got (to Kuwait),” Howell said. "
“My daughter was 2-1/2 years old at the time. Not one time did my wife say ‘You’ve got to come home.’
“The second time I was deployed, we had two children. She never complained and did everything to support me. She was a trooper beyond words.”
Howell said he and his family get to come back to the area about once a year. He was here this summer for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. He tries to schedule trips home around the holidays.
“My life now is a lot more complicated,” Howell said.
“Considering the places I’ve been and the things I’ve done, it’s great to get away from that and come home. It’s a great atmosphere, low stress and I always enjoy the outdoors and being with family.
“I have a great mom and dad and am super proud of that, and I love them very much. They instilled core biblical values in me. I give all the credit to Christ. Anything good that has come in my life is only because of my relationship with Jesus Christ.”