A soldier and now a graduate

Published 1:39 pm Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ben Owens may have donned a cap and gown for his graduation from Riverland Community College Tuesday night, but another uniform he wears has also left a lifelong impression.

Owens, 22, is a war veteran.

While attending Austin High School as a senior in October 2003, he enlisted in the Army National Guard.

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“Part of it was because of Sept. 11,” he said. “I guess I wanted to do my part.”

College benefits were also an incentive, and Owens had started classes at Riverland in 2005 before his deployment.

With six months of training in Mississippi under his belt, he was deployed in 2006. He served in Iraq from April 2006 through July 2007. His duties were patrolling and running convoys as an infantryman.

Owens said although he does not agree with the U.S. being in Iraq, he said the military does do some good in the war-torn country.

“We got schools built, we interacted with the local population,” he said. “We got a lot of people jobs. I like to see on a small scale we made somewhat of a difference.”

Owens met his current girlfriend, Shannon Harm, of the Wisconsin National Guard, through her older brother while in basic training. He also corresponded with a college representative while overseas because he intended to continue his education when he returned.

Owens officially earned his associate degree Tuesday and now plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Owens said he does not regret his decision to join the military; in fact, he believes it’s among the best decisions he’s ever made.

“It taught me about integrity, honor … it’s really shaping me into the person I am today. It’s taught me not to get worked up about small things. We’re all different, but we’re all people.”

He added, however, that anyone considering joining the military should not do so on a whim or for an adventure.

“It shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially with a war going on,” he said.

Owens is the eldest of three children: Eli, 19, who also attends Riverland, and Caleb, 15, a student at AHS. His parents are Terri and Richard of Austin.

“I’m proud of him and all he did,” his father said.

Owens is committed to the Guard for six years: one weekend a month and two weeks a year. He said the likelihood of his deployment to Iraq again is “more of a probability than a chance.

“I signed up for a reason, so I’m going to do my job,” he said.