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Roaring Spring native reflects on illustrious military career

Kagarise retired March 31 from the U.S. Air Force after 29 years of service

Kent Karagise of Kansas City, a native of Roaring Spring and graduate of Central High School, Class of 1989, retired from the Air Force on March 31. His switch from the Army to the Air Force early in his career opened doors for him to become a paralegal. Courtesy photo

After “divorcing” the Army, a Kansas City man with Roaring Spring roots found a new fulfilling 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 kind of like a dream,” Kagarise said. “It really happened so quickly, 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 into Iraq, and it broke into pandemonium. We put on all our gas equipment and jumped into vehicles, slept maybe two or three hours a day, made instant coffee, 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 was vulnerable.

“You smell death and burning bodies in the air, body parts everywhere,” Kagarise said. “It’s humbling; you go there with a training mentality of kill, kill, kill, but you begin to think of your own mortality. That changes your perspective on life. You come back from it different. It’s hard to even 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 ephemeral.

“I’ve often explained my departure from the Army to the Air Force much like a divorce,” Kagarise said. “If someone asks what happened to your marriage, it is easy to blame the other party, but, in most cases, at the end of the day, the relationship simply fails to be what it once was. My explanation to people who ask me, ‘why did you switch?’ is simply that I changed, and I was at a point where I didn’t feel my first love changed with me.”

The shift from Army to Air Force spurred a diverse career before he retired March 31 after a 29-year military career.

Kagarise wore many hats in the Air Force, serving as a photojournalist and paralegal, as well as recruiter and development training flight program manager.

“When I switched to the Air Force, I said to 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. How about public affairs as a photojournalist?’ Having been an Army cook, I never dreamt I could have such an amazing job. No arguments, I went that direction and loved every second of it.”

“One day, a lieutenant colonel at the time and an amazing mentor asked me, ‘You ever thought about being a paralegal?’ I said, ‘No, I love public affairs.'”

“He then asked me if I wanted to (be promoted) and explained he could promote me within a matter of months. My response was, ‘Let’s do it, sir,'” Kagarise said.

Being a paralegal opened doors. He was a law office superintendent for active duty Air Force, an auditor for inspections and hand picked by a Pentagon-level general to review paralegal recruiting efforts.

Perhaps the most notable mission of his career, though, was the Gulf War, while in the Army.

Patriot missiles and other technology were used to liberate Kuwait.

“If not for the Patriot missiles, I might not be sitting here today; the Patriot missiles probably saved countless American lives,” Kagarise said.

Missions like that were the reason Kagarise’s parents cautioned him against joining the armed forces.

Kagarise was just 17 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,” Kagarise’s father, Fred, said. “I’m proud he did join; I’m glad he did.”

Kagarise is, too, saying he was naive when he first enlisted.

“My mother once said, ‘the Army took my baby.’ She is not wrong. I cannot speak for today’s military, but in 1989, basic training was a traumatic experience and I have never been the same, (but) I have no regrets.”

“He (wants) to be known as a good soldier,” his mother, Carol, said. “Whatever was asked of him, he did it. He’s military; it runs through his veins.”

To Kagarise, it doesn’t matter whether the people back home recognize his accomplishments. He cares more about the cause for which he fought.

“I think every human being feels or hopes they have contributed or given something in a manner which gives back to society,” Kagarise said.

Kagarise hopes people look at the bigger picture.

“I can only hope they appreciate what it means for that flag to fly and occasionally take a few moments to think about the sacrifices that have been made for that to be a reality and understand that it is truly not something to be taken for granted. Rome never dreamt it could fall. We are a young country; we must be resolute in our convictions to keep that flag flying and work together to allow our great nation to endure.”

Mirror Staff Writer Andrew Mollenauer is at 814-946-7428.

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