Military service. Two years, three, four, five, ten, twenty. How does 33 years sound?
Rob Barrow of Troy, Ohio, dropped out of Brandon High School (Florida) where he was in Army ROTC in 1979. Without a high school diploma but with perfect test scores, he was able to join the U.S. Air Force the following year.
He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base (San Antonio, Texas) and tech school at Sheppard Air Force Base (Wichita Falls, Texas) as a heavy airlift and bombardment mechanic and later became a flight engineer and an instructor.
As Hank Snow and Johnny Cash sing in “I’ve Been Everywhere,” Barrow has been to the Philippines, Guam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and multiple European countries.
He has 88 combat sorties and has been in more than 10 aircraft that were on fire at take-off, in flight, or landing with one especially dangerous encounter where he reports, “We drank plenty of beer that night.”
He’s been aboard the Lockheed Martin’s “notoriously unreliable C-5” where when things went amiss, cannibalizing other aircraft was the order of the day as the needed parts were never in the supply system.
But in 2013, Barrow retired. He’s 90 percent disabled, and you should feel free to ask him about back problems, knee problems, hearing loss, and sleep apnea.
I prefer to tell you about Barrow’s life in retirement. He now refers to himself as a “gentleman farmer and a house husband.” He takes on the multitude of tasks that are always a part of home ownership such as plumbing leaks and floor replacements.
His favorite title, however, is chef. As a farmer, he grows tomatoes, squash, corn, zucchini, and herbs. He cans and freezes the vegetables and air dries the herbs. A master of the smoker and the grill, he is expert at steaks, pork chops, chicken and any kind of seafood.
He watches cooking shows and indicates, “Great cooking is about touch, smell, and taste. It takes a lot of imagination, innovation, figuring out things on the fly.”
He began honing his cooking skills when as he reports, “Dad died when I was 13, and Mom just gave up. If I wanted to eat, I had to cook, winging it initially.”
The oldest child with four siblings, he had learned about camping and fishing – not hunting – from his father: “From age four, I was out there, sleeping in tents, fishing whenever the family could get away.”
His advice to me about teaching my great grandchildren, Cohl and Parker, both age three and one half, to love fishing is, “Start them with a cane pole and worms.” As he says this, he has prefaced it with, “I saw a sweet little Zebco 303 with a little caster at Walmart the other day.”
Although he fishes some in the area, he says, “I’m leery about eating fish caught in Ohio because the farm pesticides leech into the water supply.” He gets his seafood from the commissary at Wright Patterson Air Force Base where he reports, “There’s a pretty good selection of frozen seafood there.”
Then we move on to talk about dogs as I know there must be a dog in this veteran’s life. He is delighted to talk about Truman, Harry Truman, because this dog “sheds everywhere.” Truman is a rescue Australian cattle dog with “golden eyes, long hair, white fur with black spots.” Truman came to the Barrow home one night when a relative who had just moved into an apartment with a “no dogs allowed” policy visited and indicated Truman had to be returned to the pound.
Barrow’s response, “Absolutely not.” And the fun began. The Barrow family purchased a tennis ball gun and a Nerf football with a light inside and the chase goes on — and on as he and Truman amuse themselves.
Gardening, cooking, housework, playing with Truman — Barrow does it all. He concludes the interview with a chuckle, “I’m still military, and I start every day with making up the bed.” I’m sure wife Cathy appreciates this.
Thank you for your service, Rob.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., a graduate of The Ohio State University, served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.