Alan McKewan’s spent 15 months in Afghanistan as a major in the U.S. Army. As executive officer for the 492nd Civil Affairs battalion of the Army Special Operations Command, McKewan’s mission during his second deployment to Afghanistan was to help lead troops to rebuild the war-torn country.
The Scottsdale resident’s latest deployment in 18 years as a reservist was to lead a support mission, not a combat brigade. Still, McKewan and his men — working with the 82nd Airborne Division — encountered improvised explosive devices on an almost daily basis and had to fight to survive.
McKewan thinks the real support came for, not from, him. He credits his wife, Shannon, 4-year-old daughter, Scotland, 2-year-old son, Liam and the rest of his close-knit family for giving him the courage to lead troops in traversing the rugged terrain to bring stability and leadership to a nation and its people.
“They are the unsung heroes,” said McKewan, 37, of his family. “I’d e-mail or call whenever I could, but there were missions where we were in the field for a week or more. Sitting back here, not knowing what was going on with me, had to be extremely difficult for my wife, especially. My family kept me going.”
McKewan, who relocated to Scottsdale from Pennsylvania in 1999, previously saw active duty in Kuwait, Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina. This summer McKewan, branch manager for Technisource, a Phoenix-based national provider of information technology and embedded software engineering, returned from a situation where he believes he and his troops made a significant
“There were areas that weren’t safe, especially in Uzbekistan; people wouldn’t go there,” McKewan said. “We were able to change those areas. Citizens there didn’t want terror cells or terrorist training camps out in the open like I saw when I arrived (in April 2005). We saw those things go away in our time there.”
McKewan, who directed $3 million worth of project funding and set up an online clothing drive for children that netted 4,000 pieces, and his troops also saw their share of enemy fire. They encountered improvised explosive devices every third or fourth mission, according to McKewan. He said one such device blew up 100 meters in front of McKewan and his men.
His closest brush with death, which brought an Army Commendation Medal with Valor — he also earned a Bronze Star Medal — came for an act done Oct. 18, 2005. According to the commendation, McKewan “moved under fire to set a position to provide overwatch for dismounted paratroopers moving into the compound ... (he) ran 30 meters, fully exposed to enemy fire to guide an infantry team.”
McKewan downplays the incident. “I’m not a big award guy,” he said. “If you’re an officer and a leader, there’s no reason to be recognized for doing your job. That’s what leaders are supposed to do. It’s nice to be recognized, but not necessary. The soldiers do remarkable things every day”
His wife was startled when she read those words. “She said ‘exposing yourself to fire?’ ” McKewan said. “I told her that I just ran. I was more like a 17- or 18-year-old. There’s nowhere really safe there.”