An everyday hero at Kent State

Suzi Starheim

Captain Robert McGowan, who started his career in the Air Force as a member of the Ohio State University ROTC, now resides here at Kent State in the ROTC building as the admissions officer. Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Captain Robert McGowan missed the birth of his premature twin daughters because he was in Iraq serving as an active member of the United States Air Force.

He got the call six hours after they were born and immediately flew home to see his wife and their two little miracles.

McGowan said being away from his wife and daughters, now 18 months old, is harder than anything else that comes with being at war.

And while the family support he gets is great, he said traveling away from home for extended periods of time is very hard.

“You just miss a lot of things,” he said. “You have to learn not to dwell on the missed birthdays or family events and just learn to make up for it later.”

All in the family

McGowan began his career in the Air Force through the ROTC program at Ohio State University.

“My sister and I are very close in age,” he said. “After she began at OSU’s ROTC program on a scholarship, I followed in her footsteps.”

Upon completing the program, McGowan went to San Antonio, Texas, for his Air Force training. The training took four months, and he then went directly into active duty.

McGowan remembers the moment he found out about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“I was on my way to my policing class at OSU when my sister called and told me what had happened,” he said.

McGowan’s sister was working in Washington, D.C., near the Pentagon at the time.

While the terrorist attacks were not the direct reason for McGowan’s enrollment in the ROTC program, he said it was the reason for the enrollment of many others.

“All areas of the military definitely saw a big spike in recruitment post 9/11,” he said.

Since the attacks, McGowan has been deployed to Iraq on two different occasions.

He was first deployed in October 2004 for nine months, and again in September 2006 for 11 months.

At this point he has been home for a little over a year.

Members of Kent State’s Air Force ROTC program have said they are pleased to have McGowan around.

“Having McGowan is a really good asset to the ROTC detachment,” Maj. Jim Ripple said. “He brings a vast amount of experience from his real-world deployments.”

Ripple said McGowan’s experiences are a great source of knowledge for the cadet corps and ROTC as a whole.

“He is able to teach them a lot about how the Air Force works,” Ripple said.

Bill Mauro, Air Force ROTC senior and cadet wing vice-commander is also pleased with McGowan.

“He relates to the cadets particularly well, especially because of his age and outgoing personality,” Mauro said.

He said since McGowan has been a youth admissions officer, recruitment has gone up tremendously.

‘Just a job’

While in Iraq, McGowan and his troops were teaching Iraqi police how to police on their own. He remembers the months he spent there policing as “a pretty hot area we were in.”

While training the Iraqi police was difficult, McGowan admits it has gotten better since he was there.

“They (the Iraqi police) are starting to hold themselves accountable,” he said. “But they still have a ways to go.”

McGowan struggled to think of a single moment that stood out in his mind as the scariest.

He said having to help the wounded was the worst thing he has seen in the military.

He recalled having to help a man who had been injured so badly that both his legs were gone.

“Having to keep yourself calm so that a wounded person doesn’t go into shock is very difficult,” he said. “You have to have confidence in yourself to do the right thing.”

While McGowan spoke sadly of seeing so many people getting injured, he said getting attacked is equally scary.

“It’s something that you train for, but when it actually happens, you don’t even really have time to be scared,” he said. “If you don’t react, people die.”

Being in the military had its positives for McGowan and the others fighting with him. He pleasantly recalled being in Iraq for the country’s first election.

“While the atmosphere was very tense and chaotic, the locals and nationals were so proud to be able to finally go out and vote,” he said.

McGowan said he does not consider himself a hero.

“Everyone has to have a job,” he said. “And this is mine.”

Contact features correspondent Suzi Starheim at [email protected].