Friday, September 08, 2006

Army Sgt. 1st Class Merideth L. Howard

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. 1st Class Merideth L. Howard, 52, of Alameda, Calif.

Sgt. Howard was assigned to the 405th Civil Affairs Battalion, Army Reserve, Fort Bragg, N.C.; killed Sept. 8 when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated near her Humvee in Kabul, Afghanistan. Also killed was Staff Sgt. Robert J. Paul.

At 52, Slain Soldier Never Slowed Down

MILWAUKEE (Sept. 28) - At 52, Sgt. 1st Class Merideth Howard worked hard to keep up with comrades half her age.

While at home on leave from Afghanistan in February, she told her husband she wasn't satisfied with her ability to take apart and reassemble her M-16 rifle as per Army regulations. So the couple bought a civilian version for her to use for practice. Within four days she could do it flawlessly - blindfolded.

Howard, a turret gunner in the Army Reserve's 405th Civil Affairs Battalion, became on Sept. 8 the oldest female U.S. soldier killed in action since military operations began in Afghanistan. A car bomber slammed into her vehicle, killing her and Staff Sgt. Robert Paul, 43, of The Dalles, Ore.

For Howard, age was never an issue, said her husband, Hugh Hvolboll, who moved with her to the Milwaukee suburb of Waukesha in 2004.

"She did anything she wanted to," he said.

"That's the way Merideth approached everything," said Loren Parkhurst, a family friend of 15 years from Concord, Calif. "She wanted to be perfect at everything she did."

Howard held undergraduate and master's degrees in marine biology. When she discovered she was prone to seasickness, she switched careers and became a firefighter in Bryan, Texas, becoming the city's first female firefighter in 1978.

She was about 5-foot-4 but she made up for her size with determination and a strength that matched her burly co-workers, recalled Bryan Fire Department Chief Mike Donoho.

Even so, some question why a woman her age would be called up to active duty. Her 78-year-old uncle, Herbert Kurtz, said he felt Howard was too old to dodge bullets.

"I was drafted in the Korean War. Heck, at this rate, maybe they'll draft me again," he said.

Of the 66 women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 51 are 30 or younger, according to Judy Bellafaire, chief historian for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C. Four women, aged 41 to 44, were the oldest casualties before Howard.

Howard's friends and family say she knew the risks when she joined the Army Reserves in 1988. She planned to retire in two years at the 20-year mark, they say.

"She knew that was her responsibility," said Lorraine Stevenson, a cousin from Corpus Christi. "She called me and said, 'I'll go and do the very best I can and I'll see you in a year.' She was never a person to complain."

After she worked as a firefighter in Bryan for 3 1/2 years, she opened a fire-safety consulting business in California where she met her future husband in 1991.

"She had beautiful blue eyes," Hvolboll said. "We hit it off right away, like we'd known each other for years."

The couple dated for 14 years, marrying in December 2005 only when Howard found out she was being called up.

Howard's lasting legacy, her husband said, is the love she had for friends, family and life.

"Life with her was an adventure," he said.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Merideth L. Howard was killed in action on 09/08/06.

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