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Call of duty: Puckett switches uniforms

NATCHEZ — Kelli Puckett has exchanged his basketball uniform for a National Guard uniform.

The former Natchez High School basketball player spent his freshman and sophomore years of college at Copiah-Lincoln Community College playing basketball. But after finishing his Co-Lin career, a tour in the military was the next step for Puckett, he said.

“After I got done playing at Co-Lin, my sophomore season didn’t go how I planned, so I had to make a decision,” Puckett said. “I didn’t want to be a regular student in college, and the National Guard thing came about, so I thought about it a little while, and I just went with it.”

Though he plans to finish his college career at Southern Mississippi, Puckett is getting ready to be deployed to Afghanistan for a nine-month tour. He underwent basic training in Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri from June 5 until Aug. 16. After that, he spent most of his time in Biloxi doing job training.

“I’m going to miss home, but I guess I’ll be ready for it,” Puckett said. “I’m looking forward to traveling and experiencing new places.”

Puckett will be part of an engineering battalion and will be doing construction work in Afghanistan. Following his tour of duty, Puckett said he’ll enroll at Southern Miss in spring of 2014.

“I want to be a basketball coach, and I want to teach social studies,” Puckett said of his long-term plans.

And being in the armed forces will hopefully give him a few things to take with him when he eventually does coach, Puckett said.

“I think I can take away the discipline,” Puckett said. “Even my generation isn’t as disciplined as generations before it. With the military, they tell you what to do, and you go do it. It’s a must.”

There’s also a lot of teamwork to be learned from a military tour, Puckett said.

“They try to instill teamwork into us, and I want to instill that into my future players,” he said. “Hopefully I can help them with their basketball career and teach them a few things about life.”

Puckett said he has been able to help with a few NHS boys basketball practices and even attend a few games.

“I’m just trying to help out and get a head start (in coaching), because I know I’ll have to do this when I get back,” Puckett said. “I’m just taking notes and helping a little bit in practice.”

Though he’s no longer able to suit up for the Bulldogs, Puckett said he enjoys being around his former team.

“I really enjoyed my years there, and I wish I had more,” Puckett said. “I feel like it’s home to me, and I love my school just about as much as anyone could, which is why I want to go back there and coach and teach.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to come in and visit with the team and travel with them. They treat me like I’m a part of the team.”

Puckett is the son of Bridgette Puckett and Lyndon Wright.