Scott Kowski has spent a lifetime in the National Guard and nearly 20 years as a volunteer firefighter, working to make a difference in the lives of others.

It’s important to Scott Kowski to help people, and that sense of purpose has influenced the choices he has made throughout his life. Through his full-time careers or his volunteer activities, he has always tried to do things that make life better for those around him.

The first major decision of his adult life was to join the National Guard when he finished high school.

“My mom told me I was going to be in the Guard to help pay for college,” he said.

His uncle was on active duty with the Army for 20 years, flying Blackhawk helicopters, so Kowski had some familiarity with the military.

Kowski was born and raised in Sauk Centre. He spent 1 1/2 years at North Dakota State University before transferring to St. John’s University to complete a degree in math. After college, he returned and he and his wife, Shelly, raised two sons, Alex and Austin.

He could have completed his six-year commitment to the Guard and turned life in another direction, but he chose to extend his contract for a full-time job with the Guard and just kept right on with it.

“I took a $3/hour pay cut to take the full-time job, but I did it for the longevity,” he said. “I knew that once I got my foot in the door, it would be a good career move.”

When he started in 1991, his weekend Guard job was in Sauk Centre. The full-time Guard job, starting in 1999, was also in Sauk Centre. After a promotion in 2008, the location for both his weekend drill job and his full-time job changed to Alexandria. In 2014, his jobs moved to Brainerd. In 2018, his jobs transferred to Moorhead. It’s been a long commute.

After 30 years in the Guard, and with the rank of master sergeant, Kowski will be retiring in July.

Having entered the Guard prior to Sept. 11, 2001, Kowski was able to experience the “old” Guard.

“We had a lot of fun back then,” he said. “I really enjoyed drill weekends and socializing with the guys at night. We went to Greece and Germany for training.”

Over the years, the Guard has changed from being a “reserve” force to more of an “operational” force. More days are spent training every year, with Guard units shadowing their counterparts in the active duty Army.

Those 30 years of service also included three deployments. Kowski went to Soto Cano Airbase, Honduras from December 2003 to June 2004, Iraq from October 2005 to July 2007 and again to Iraq from May 2011 to April 2012.

Kowski heartily recommends the Guard to any young person pondering their post-high school choices.

“The health benefits and education benefits are outrageously good,” he said.

Kowski did not use all of the education funds that he earned and was able to transfer them to his sons. His older son received 11 calendar months of tuition paid in full, with a book stipend and a housing allowance. He attends the University of Mary in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Serving his country and the citizens of Minnesota in the Guard is not the only way that Kowski has helped in his community. He has been a volunteer with the Sauk Centre Fire Department since January 2001.

“Both my brother-in-law and a friend in the Guard were in the department, and they encouraged me to  join. It’s a way of being of service in the community,” he said. “I was young enough when I started that the adrenaline rush was a ‘thing.’”

Being a part of the fire department is also like belonging to another “family.” It reminds Kowski of the “old National Guard.”

What he likes most about the fire department is “doing things that made a difference during people’s worst times.

“We’re there to make a difference, knowing that what we did gave some kind of solace to people,” he said.

Kowski joined Sauk Centre American Legion Post 67 in about 2005. He is in charge of the Honor Guard, taking care of all funerals in the Sauk Centre area. He just found out that he will be the new post commander, beginning in May.

“It will fill the void of my second son graduating and not having sports anymore,” he said. “It’s good to be involved.”

Kowski truly enjoyed being in the Guard. As his years of service added up, he became an SME — a subject matter expert — and as people came to him for advice and information, he liked being able to help them.

He is already on terminal leave, using up accrued vacation time prior to his last day. He has to travel to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for medical outprocessing this month and will do his final outprocessing at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin in June.

“I’m glad I joined the Guard. I would do it again,” he said.

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