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NEWS | April 18, 2017

Retired Army chief spends decades on the water

By Sgt. Russell Toof 99th Regional Support Command

In the simplest terms of understanding the military, the Army fights on land, the Navy controls the water, the Air Force commands the sky and the Marines are amphibious. For 31 years as a Soldier and now in retirement as a government contractor, James Howell has been on water the entire time.

“I love being on the water. A stateroom versus a tent, that’s what I tell guys looking to join,” said Howell with a big smile on his face.

Howell retired as a chief warrant officer 4. He served 20 years on active duty and then 11 in the Army Reserve. He was a marine engineering officer and since November 2011 has worked as a marine surveyor at the 99th Regional Support Command’s Area Maintenance Support Activity 83 at Curtis Bay, Maryland.

“I’m a motorhead. I’ve always loved engines. I was under the hood of a car since the age of 14. I like that I’m out from behind the desk other than the reports I have to do,” said Howell.

AMSA 83 is one of two locations in the 99th Regional Support Command’s footprint that maintain watercraft. The AMSA provides technical assistance and maintenance support to the 949th Transportation Company along with the 203rd Transportation Detachment.

Howell spends a majority of his time working on the Major General Robert Smalls (LSV-8). The 314-foot-long vessel was commissioned a decade ago. Smalls, who escaped slavery during the Civil War, was the first African-American to captain a vessel in U.S. service.

“The benefit to the Army is that we are currently in Kuwait, and we utilize these types of boats in Kuwait. It’s been over there before and it’s been an integral part in the warfighting effort,” explained Howell. “With the flat bottom, you can go into shallow areas as opposed to other vessels.”

He added that it takes a minimum of 32 personnel to run the ship, which can hold two-dozen M1 Abrams tanks in the 10,500-square-foot central cargo deck.

While the field is small, Howell is doing his part to bring aboard the next generation into the warrant officer corps.

“I’ve recently spoken to two guys who had interest in joining the unit, but we need more people in this field and it’s getting harder to bring guys in,” Howell said.