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2011-04-21

Local soldier takes pride in Iraq service

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff writer

Sgt. First Class Michael Bankston returned to Iraq in January where he is stationed at Joint Base Balad. The army reservist had served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91, so the situation felt familiar.
Despite his 24 years of service, the 43 year old has no plans to leave the army any time soon.
"I'm a platoon sergeant for about 45 troops, mostly much younger than I am," Bankston reported from Iraq last week where he serves as a maintenance supervisor for the platoon that "basically maintains anything with wheels."
The group's day begins around 4 am, with a round of physical training to get the juices flowing. "That's followed by personal hygiene and chow. Then we go to work." The platoon's work ends around 7 pm.
It's not all work and no play for the soldiers, however. "We have a USO, a movie theatre. Sometimes we have bingo night, and there are pool tables," Bankston said. "And, we just recently got the biggest outdoor swimming pool in Iraq!"
Bankston was born in Boerne and attended Smithson Valley High School. He doesn't mind admitting that "Texas high school football" is one of his favorite things.
The food at Bankston's home-away-from-home is outstanding, he says. "We have specials almost every night. Like steak and lobster night. And we get lots of Indian food, which I like."
A few nights ago, Bankston and his roommate especially enjoyed the menu. "We had menudo from San Antonio! It was great!"
Since the army's stomach seems to be well provided for, the Courier wondered what the sergeant might be missing the most from back home.
"Well, my family, of course - my wife, Kim, and my three kids," he said, quietly. "And I miss getting together with my good friends, coaching the kids and barbecuing on the lake."
When the journeyman electrician is back home in Bandera, he coaches Little League baseball, football and basketball.
Two friends in particular who shared these activities here are Bo Mansfield and John Milner. "Tell Bo to stay out of trouble and keep my son out of trouble, too," he joked. Mansfield coaches a team that includes one of Bankston's children. "We've often gotten together in Pipe Creek on Bo's grandpa's place, JB Edwards. We barbecued and just had a good time together talking about the good old days."
Bankston has been a recipient of the care packages sent out from the Bandera United Methodist Church, along with lots of cards and letters from local people.
"It's amazing to me that a little town like Bandera really supports all the troops. Let them know that we really appreciate it," he said.
Bankston expresses a great deal of pride in what the US military is accomplishing in Iraq, along with pride in his young compatriots. "They're just great. They are sacrificing so much for the life we live as Americans today. And they do it without complaining. They are doing their jobs and do it all with a steady heart."
He has no doubt that the US military effort has made a huge difference for the people of Iraq. "There are still some who are negative here, but these people can now vote, they can walk down the street without fear," said Bankston. "We got rid of a regime that was doing a lot of bad things to its people."
Bankston has a family history of military service, with a grandfather who served in WW II in the Pacific, and a father who served in Vietnam.
"I love representing my family and my country in the armed forces," he concluded.

Pictured: Courtesy photo

Sgt. 1st Class Michael Bankston, a platoon sergeant with the 238th Combat Service Support Battalion, 77th Sustainment Brigade, 310th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, shares a moment of time with Sgt.1st Class Albert, a white labrador from the behavior mental health clinic as he tours the company area. Albert is introduced to soldiers with the intention of boosting the morale of service members stationed at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.