Celebrating roots in Iraq
By CLIFTON ADCOCK World Staff Writer
A Pryor man was among the revelers at the first combat-zone powwow.
A strange thing sits in the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of the American Indian: a 50-gallon drum, cut in half, with canvas material from an army cot stretched tight over the open end.
Though not a traditional drum, it served its purpose — to help bring together American Indians serving in Iraq for the first inter-tribal powwow in a combat zone.
Pryor resident and Cherokee citizen Jon Ketcher was at the powwow, along with Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Osage citizens, dancing, singing, playing stickball and Indian marbles and giving other servicemen and women a chance to learn about American Indian culture.
A Cherokee Nation Marshal for almost eight years, Ketcher, 37, entered the military in 1989 straight out of high school.
When U.S. forces began preparing for the Gulf War in 1990, Ketcher and the VMFA 212 squadron, under the Marine Corps' Third Air Wing, were sent to Bahrain; when the war began in 1991, he served as an ordnanceman, loading and reloading aircraft with ammunition for combat missions.
Often, alarms signaling incoming Scud missiles would sound, with a voice coming over
a loudspeaker telling troops to don masks and gloves and to take cover, Ketcher said.
One night as Ketcher was walking out to the tarmac, where crews were working only by flashlight, the alarm sounded, followed by two loud booms that signaled Patriot missiles being launched to intercept the Scuds.
Ketcher said he heard tools dropping and hitting the tarmac and saw the crew members throw down their flashlights, then heard the running coming toward him.
"It sounded like a herd of buffalo coming at you,'' Ketcher said. "They were giving it all they had to get to the maintenance bunkers, so I thought I would do the same."
Ketcher received his discharge from the Marines in 1993 but enlisted in the Army National Guard soon after and re-enlisted in the Guard in 1999.
In 2000, he transferred to the 120th Engineer Battalion in his hometown of Pryor and was deployed to Iraq in 2004 at Camp Wolf near Al Assad.
Once in Iraq, Ketcher was responsible for guarding Explosive Ordinance Disposal teams, but later assisted in disposing of weaponry, he said.
There were many American Indians serving in Iraq, and with the help of their tribes back home, some were able to organize the inter-tribal powwow, the first such event in a combat zone, Ketcher said.
Curious about what the Americans were doing, Iraqi civilians began to watch as the powwow began, but they soon left.
"They came and were checking things out, but as soon as drums started and singing started, they took off," Ketcher said. "It scared them."