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Tyrone Eagle Eye News

The Voice of the Tyrone Area High School

Tyrone Eagle Eye News

Veteran’s Day Spotlight: Tyrone Coach Reflects on His Service in Kosovo

Tyrone JH football coach Steve Johnson during the time he served in Kosovo with his PA National Guard unit (photo courtesy of Steve Johnson)

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003, there was a major need for more troops. Since the military was all volunteer and a draft would have been extremely unpopular, the nation’s military and political leaders relied on National Guard reservists more than in previous wars.

The US Army pulled many of its regular troops out of Kosovo and other surrounding countries, where US troops had been conducting a peacekeeping operation since 1999.

When these troops left for Iraq, they needed soldiers to take their place.

Members of the Pennsylvania National Guard, including many from the Tyrone area, were among those sent to Kosovo to take over the role of the active duty troops that had been sent to fight in Iraq.

One of those local National Guardsmen was Steve Johnson, who is well known to Tyrone students as the head coach of the Tyrone junior high football team.

Johnson graduated from Tyrone in 2000 and played on the 1999 State Championship football team.

While in high school, Johnson knew he wanted to join the military after graduation.

“As a junior in high school and unsure of my future, I thought that the military would be a good option for me. I was in good shape and I knew that I would be able to take orders well,” Johnson said. “I also had scored high on the ASVAB when it was given at the school so I knew that I would have plenty of options. I really wasn’t looking to fight on the front lines. I was hoping that whatever I chose while in the military would carry over to the civilian world”.

Johnson initially thought he would join the Marines. No one that Johnson knew personally in his family was a veteran, but his grandfather was a Marine during WWII and had fought in some very fierce battles in the Pacific.

“My thoughts were if the Marines were good enough for him, then they were good enough for me,” Johnson said.

Unfortunately, after talking to the Marine recruiters, several members of Johnson’s family did not want him to join the Marines.

“My close family had enjoyed my high school football success and made it known that they wanted me to go to college to play football. Trying to be respectful to their wishes, I ended up going to Lycoming College, but my heart was never in it.”

I felt like Forrest Gump, ‘I fit in the army like one of them round pegs. It’s not really hard. You just make your bed real neat and remember to stand up straight and always answer every question with ‘Yes, drill Sergeant

— Steve Johnson

Johnson stayed at Lycoming for a semester but realized that he didn’t really want to be there and didn’t have a way to pay for his tuition.

“I decided to go into the Army National Guard because they had a unit in Tyrone, and they would pay all of my tuition at a state school. I had a handful of friends already in it and I believed that my family would accept the National Guard over active duty,” Johnson said.

Johnson went to basic training soon after and made a lot of memories there.

“Most people probably wouldn’t say this, but I have many fond memories from basic training,” Johnson said.

He was able to go to basic with one of his closest friends, Josh Lucas, who was also a Tyrone grad and one of Johnson’s teammates on the 1999 Tyrone state championship football team.

“Unfortunately they put us in different units when we got there, but it was nice to have someone relatively close to you, going through the same thing. We were able to meet up during certain trainings and at the chapel on Sundays,” Lucas said.

Reflecting back on the experience, Johnson said that he enjoyed the whole process.

“I felt like Forrest Gump, ‘I fit in the army like one of them round pegs. It’s not really hard. You just make your bed real neat and remember to stand up straight and always answer every question with ‘Yes, drill Sergeant,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that it was 9/11 that ultimately led to his tour of duty in Kosovo.

“At this time, I had changed my [job] to be an infantryman and in the 28th Infantry division. The 28th hadn’t been fully called to active duty since the Korean war in the 1950s. But September 11, 2001 changed the lives of every American,” Johnson said.

Before the 28th got to Kosovo, the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division was serving there, but they were needed in the War on Terror, so Johnson’s unit was sent to Kosovo to take their place.

Johnson’s job in Kosovo was to help protect the local minorites from ethnic violence.
Johnson’s unit acted as a police force keeping everyone in check and making sure everyone was getting along.

“Fortunately the US sector was uneventful but there were times where we had to assist other NATO forces during bombings and shootings,” Johnson said.

When violence would break out Johnson would usually have to assist in the investigation and cleanup.

“In my four-man team, I served with one Tyrone grad by the name of George Webb. Other Tyrone grads that were over there during this time were Josh Lucas, Nick Walls, Anthony Stever, Anthony Fiore, and Mark Carrico. Also, junior high wrestling assistant Mike Ciampoli was there. I was able to see these guys a lot when I was off duty, and that was nice,” said Johnson.

Johnson takes pride in what he and the other reservists from Tyrone did in Kosovo. Because of their efforts, many civilians in Kosovo were protected from violence and the country was able to avoid another bloody ethnic war.

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About the Contributor
Quinn Cowher, Staff Writer
Quinn Cowher is a junior at Tyrone Area High School for the 2023-2024 school year. This is his third year as a member of the Tyrone Eagle Eye news, and he would like to continue being so. Things that interest him in his spare time are playing video games, sports, hunting, fishing, and hanging out with friends and family. He is involved in sports for the school, such as football and wrestling. He plans to go to college at Penn State after graduating from Tyrone Area High School. He is very excited to be writing for the Tyrone Eagle Eye news this year.

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