HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan --
Less than two years ago, Lance Cpl. Martin Powell Jr. was standing in a cap and gown alongside a graduating class of 90 students at Cascade High School. Today, he proudly wears a uniform shared by 200,000.
Raised in the small southern town of Wartrace, Tenn., Powell has seen more of the world than most 19-year-olds.
“All my friends were joining the Marine Corps, and I decided that I wanted to do that too,” said Powell.
Stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Powell has participated in operations in Korea and is now deployed to Afghanistan.
“Experiencing the culture out here and seeing how the people live makes me more appreciative of the country I come from,” he said.
Powell arrived in Afghanistan in November with his unit, 9th Engineer Support Battalion. While deployed as a combat engineer, he has supported the construction of multiple structures that provide additional safety in the combat zone. Additionally, he has helped construct bridges and roads, making travel throughout the region easier for coalition convoys and Afghan civilians alike.
“We built a land bridge to help the community but also to help with military bypass,” he said. “We’ve done a lot to help people out here.”
Prior to deploying, units spend months training and preparing for the deployed environment. Powell said though problems tend to arise after being around each other constantly, his platoon pulls together when the time comes.
“Especially when we go out on missions, problems are left in the rear, and we put everything else aside,” he said.
The rainy season in Afghanistan has brought additional challenges to the combat engineers. Powell talked about a 3-day downpour his platoon worked through during a recent construction job.
“In Okinawa it’s always raining, so the training helped us for times like this last mission,” he said. “We’re kind of used to it.”
The work of combat engineers is hard labor, but the back-to-back missions help the deployment pass quickly.
“It makes the time go by a lot faster when you’re working,” said Powell. “It might [be difficult] sometimes, but the days go by quickly.”
In garrison, Powell said he enjoys going swimming and visiting the numerous beaches near his base.
“I love going out in town and experiencing Japan,” he said. “There is always something to do, unless it’s monsoon season.”
Despite enjoying the Japanese culture, Powell looks forward to returning to the states to be with his wife. For his first duty station, Powell was sent to Japan unaccompanied but said his wife remains supportive of what he does.
“My wife has one of those ‘half my heart is in Afghanistan’ bumper stickers on her car,” he joked.
Powell plans to go back to school after his enlistment is completed. Like his wife, he wants to become a dental assistant, but he said leaving the Marine Corps will be “bittersweet.”
“All my brothers that I have been working with and living with — I’m going to miss them a lot,” he said.