Concord Army colonel keeps up with city council
Tue September 15, 2009
Concord Army colonel keeps up with city council duties from Iraq
In July, a doctor from Concord agreed to come out of retirement and do a fourth deployment overseas at an age when most people would rather kick back and enjoy their grandkids. What's more, Colonel Hector Henry has gone to great lengths during his deployment to stay current with his responsibilities as a Concord City Councilmember. WFAE's Julie Rose reports:
If you didn't know what to look for, you'd probably have no idea that Colonel Henry was even involved in last Thursday's Concord City Council meeting. The only obvious sign was a softball-sized black camera perched at the front of the room.
That camera has been Colonel Henry's eyes and ears in council chambers for the last three months.
"Every once in a while he'll pass a message along via the chat here you can see," explains Concord City staffer Peter Franzese. It's his job to rotate the camera so Colonel Henry can see each speaker. Using free software called Skype, he beams the images and sound directly to Colonel Henry over the internet.
Occasionally, Franzese turns his laptop around so council members can see a grainy, but clear, image of Colonel Henry in his army fatigues, following along with the meeting all the way from Baghdad where it's one in the morning. And Franzese says he hasn't once seen the Colonel doze off.
"I think he's hanging in there in what appears to be a pretty stark room at well-past 1 a.m. now," says Franzese.
Franzese says Colonel Henry's pretty talkative during the council's work sessions on Tuesday nights. But at the regular council meeting last Thursday he stayed quiet, not wanting to disrupt the flow or startle the unsuspecting audience. And he doesn't vote on issues because the city's ordinance is a little murky on casting votes by webcam.
But his Southern drawl did boom through the computer speakers once when the Mayor announced I'd arrived to see how well the set-up was working.
"How are you!" called out Colonel Henry, sounding as if he were just in the other room.
It's no surprise to his fellow council members that Colonel Henry has found a way to participate in council meetings while in Iraq. He has a reputation for being dedicated and very thorough.
Actually, Councilman Jim Ramseur jokes it's kind of an advantage to have the Colonel so far away. "We like it on the computer better, you know, he doesn't say as much," says Ramseur, chuckling. "We kid him like he's in his early 100s. But he's actually 70. So 70 years old to go to Iraq. No matter, if you take everything else away, that's a major accomplishment. So we're mighty proud of him for that."
Colonel Henry rang me also using Skype.
"Hey Julie, this is Hector Henry calling you from Baghdad, Iraq."
In the background I could see a fridge, a black leather couch and a TV playing cartoons and old music videos. Colonel Henry says it's the break room for doctors and nurses at the clinic. They offer emergency care for soldiers that are seriously injured. But mostly, Colonel Henry says his job is run-of-the-mill care for the 3,000 soldiers of the North Carolina National Guard unit to which he's assigned.
"People have sore throats, rashes, they have athletes foot, stomach ache, got headaches," says Colonel Henry. "You know it's pretty much like you would see in any family practice."
Even though he's 70, Colonel Henry is expected to keep up with the younger soldiers, physically. So he's up every morning, at 5 a.m. to run five miles before the stifling Iraq heat settles in - even when he's been up until 3 a.m. for city council meetings.
"The only bad thing is we don't have any paved streets," notes Colonel Henry. "So running on the rocks is a little hard on my old bones."
When he runs by, Colonel Henry says the soldiers greet him with respect, though they're probably shaking their heads in amazement when his back is turned. Colonel Henry is one of the oldest men every deployed by the U.S. Army Reserves Medical Corps.
"I do some patrols with the young soldiers and they always ask me, 'When'd you go into the Army? How long you been in the Army? I wasn't born then! My mother wasn't born then!' recounts Colonel Henry, laughing. "That kind of stuff. They're 18 and 19 year olds. But you know, if one of my boys were here, I'd want somebody to look after them and I think I offer that."
He also doesn't regret committing himself to late-night meetings with the Concord City Council while he's gone.
"Absolutely not," says Colonel Henry. "I think I'd have been remiss had I not done that. I feel like when I went on the city council when I moved to Concord in 1971 there were 17,000 some people in this city. Now there are more than 80,000. So it's just been wonderful to watch it grow and I feel - it's kinda like this job here. I feel like I've really contributed to my country, and my country's been good to me."
Colonel Hector Henry's fourth, and what he says will be is last, deployment ends in October. That should put him back in his Concord City Council seat in time for the November meeting.