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Career Air Force sergeant helping to rebuild Iraq

November 30, 1999|By 1st Lt. BLAKE SAKSA

Public Affairs Officer, 555 Combat Support Brigade, U.S. Army

Air Force Master Sgt. John Rowland has dedicated a lifetime of service to this country. He is retiring from the Air Force early next year and recently I had the opportunity to sit down with him at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Marez in Mosul, Iraq, to discuss his life and career.

Master Sgt. Rowland grew up on a farm in Sharpsburg. The son of Stanley and Evelyn Rowland of Sharpsburg, he joined the Air Force at age 18 because he was looking for something different in his life for a couple of years. The initial two-year stint away from home has now turned into 22, simply because he enjoyed life in the Air Force.

He is stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Mont., and his unit, the 557th Engineer Red Horse Squadron, is on a six-month deployment to Iraq. Originally trained as a heavy construction equipment operator, he is currently the safety officer for the Red Horse. His job is to train younger, inexperienced airmen on heavy equipment operation and use his knowledge to assist the crew leaders with the various construction projects on Marez.

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Master Sgt. Rowland was appointed to this position because of his experience and extensive knowledge of all aspects of civil engineering. In his words, "I know what is right, what is wrong, and why."

One reason Rowland loves his work is the chance to travel all over the world. He has spent time stationed in Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Alaska, Germany, the Azores, Kuwait, Iraq and various locations stateside. "I don't have any friends who can say they've been to the places I have been," he said.

All of the travel and moving around has taken a toll on his personal life and he realizes his family has been forced to pay a significant price. Of the last 12 years Rowland has spent attached to a Red Horse squadron, 6 1/2 of them have been away from his family.

Rowland has a wife of 19 years, Suki, and two children: Jennifer, 18, who is graduating from high school this spring, and Joshua, 16. He is happy with the Air Force because his family fully supports what he is doing. That is the main reason he is still in the military. "Without their support I'd have gotten out of the Air Force a long time ago."

Family life in the military has had its ups and downs, according to Rowland. He has missed birthdays and holidays serving his country, but is hoping to make it back to Montana for his daughter's graduation.

"The hardest part of the deployment is being gone for the holidays and missing other important events within my family. For this deployment I left the day after my anniversary."

Rowland does not merely claim to be a patriot. He lives the example that the military is much more than a profession, but a calling and way of life. "I volunteered for this deployment. And since this is my last deployment I like to do jobs and spend time with folks I've been friends with for years."

For Rowland, the most rewarding part of his job is seeing structures that he built 10 to 15 years ago that are still in good condition and being used today. It reminds him of another mission accomplished. When Master Sgt. Rowland retires, he is hoping to take a civil service job at Malmstrom or work as a project manager and equipment operator for the state highway department, which is the closest thing to what he is doing now. "I'm not the type to work in an office," he said.

The biggest lesson he has learned in his 22 years in the Air Force is how important family has been to his life.

"I want to thank my parents, my wife, and my kids for their support through the good times and the bad. Without them, I wouldn't be able to do this."

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