Then “divorce” Army, a Kansas City man with roots in Roaring Spring found a satisfying new relationship with the Air Force.
Kent Kagarise was in the Army when he was sent to the Middle East during Operation Desert Storm.
“I was 19 years old and the conflict itself was like a dream,” Kagarise said. “It really happened so fast and you felt like you were in a whirlwind. We woke up and did our jobs and followed orders. Next thing you know, rockets were flying over Iraq and pandemonium broke out. We put all our gear on gas and jumped into vehicles, we slept maybe two or three hours a day, we made instant coffee, we drove straight through the desert, it’s something that takes your breath away.”
The experience was a harrowing reminder that he and everyone else involved were vulnerable.
“You smell of death and burnt bodies in the air, body parts everywhere,” Kagarise said. “It is humiliating; You go in there with a kill, kill, kill training mentality, but you start thinking about your own mortality. That changes your perspective on life. You come back from it different. It’s even hard to put words to that.”
Kagarise, who graduated from Central High School in 1989, joined the Army, where he served as a cook, but his time in the branch was short-lived.
“I have often explained my departure from the Army to the Air Force as if it were a divorce,” Kagarise said. “If someone asks what happened to your marriage, it’s easy to blame the other party, but in most cases, at the end of the day, the relationship just isn’t what it once was. My explanation for people who ask me, ‘why did you change?’ it’s just that I changed, and I was at a point where I didn’t feel like my first love changed with me.”
The move from the Army to the Air Force spurred a diverse career before retiring on March 31 after a 29-year military career.
Kagarise served in many hats in the Air Force, serving as a photojournalist and legal assistant, as well as a recruiting and development training flight program manager.
“When I switched to the Air Force, I told my recruiter, ‘I know how to cook and how to kill people; Make me a cook or security forces’”. Kagarise said. “He chuckled and said, ‘I’m not going to do that to you. What about public affairs as a photojournalist? Having been a cook in the army, I never dreamed he could have such an amazing job. No arguments, I went in that direction and loved every second of it.”
“One day a lieutenant colonel at the time and an amazing mentor asked me, ‘Did you ever think about being a paralegal?’ I said, ‘No, I love public affairs.’”
“Then he asked me if I wanted (to be promoted) and explained that I could be promoted in a matter of months. My response was: ‘Let’s do it, sir.’” Kagarise said.
Being a paralegal opened doors. He was the superintendent of an active duty Air Force law firm, inspection auditor, and handpicked by a Pentagon-level general to review paralegal recruitment efforts.
However, perhaps the most notable mission of his career was the Gulf War while in the Army.
Patriot missiles and other technologies were used to liberate Kuwait.
“If it wasn’t for the Patriot missiles, I might not be sitting here today; Patriot missiles probably saved countless American lives.” Kagarise said.
Missions like that were the reason Kagarise’s parents warned her not to join the military.
Kagarise was only 17 years old when the time came for him and his family to make the decision.
“I didn’t want him to join, but I signed the papers,” Said Kagarise’s father, Fred. “I’m proud that he joined; I’m glad she did.
Kagarise also says that he was naive when he first enlisted.
“My mother once said, ‘The army took my baby.’ She is not wrong. I can’t speak for the military today, but in 1989, basic training was a traumatic experience and I’ve never been the same, (but) I don’t regret it.”
“He (wants) to be known as a good soldier,” said his mother, Carol. “Everything that was asked of him, he did. He is military; he runs through his veins.”
For Kagarise, it doesn’t matter if people at home recognize her achievements. He cares more about the cause he fought for.
“I believe that every human being feels or expects to have contributed or given something in a way that gives back to society”, Kagarise said.
Kagarise hopes that people will look at the big picture.
“I can only hope that they appreciate what it means to have that flag flying and occasionally take a few moments to think about the sacrifices that have been made to make it a reality and understand that it really isn’t something to be taken for granted. Roma never dreamed that she could fall. We are a young country; We must stand firm in our convictions to keep that flag flying and work together to enable our great nation to endure.”
Mirror staff writer Andrew Mollenauer is at 814-946-7428.