Philip Barbour grad has served in United States Army twice
GLADESVILLE- Many people spend their lives wondering if they made the right career choice, sitting at the same job year after year wondering what might have been.
Mike Cochran was once in a similar situation. After starting a military career two years after graduating from Philip Barbour High School in 1981, he decided to leave the Army after serving four years and began looking for a profession.
Over the next 22 years Cochran spent time as a West Virginia State Police officer, a teacher, an electrician, owner of a masonry/excavation company, and owner of a daycare center. It was while he was teaching that he made the choice to return to the military at age 45.
“I was teaching school and I took two of my students to get their ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) and that’s how it happened,” said Cochran. “Somebody asked me while I was there if I was there for my ASVAB and I kinda snickered at them. Then they told me that they would take me back if I was prior service. When I found out I could do it, I knew I just had to do it and it felt like something I needed to do. Turns out it was the best decision I have ever made.”
Cochran’s first stint in the Army (1981-1984) began with basic and advanced individual training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he trained to become a cavalry scout. He spent three years of that time as a cavalry scout with the Third Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Bad Hersfeld, Germany on the East German border.
“I really enjoyed being over in Germany,” Cochran recalled. “I liked doing the maneuvers and liked doing gunnery. When I look back at it now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. That was a really good experience. That three years overseas shaped the way I do things now. It was a springboard for everything I’ve done ever since.”
Cochran also managed to earn an associates degree from Marshall University (police science), along with a bachelor’s (business management) and master’s degree (business administration) from West Virginia University during his break between stints.
He officially began Part 2 of his military career in 2006 with the Army National Guard. He has since held numerous positions including Construction Squad Leader, Range Control Specialist, Engineering Technician for Camp Dawson, Carpentry/Masonry Instructor, and Brigade Operations Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge. For the last three years he’s been a Compliance Officer for the National Guard Bureau.
“On average I was probably about 20 years older than the average person that was at my stage of the game when I went back in,” he said. “So I had to do some catchup. Physically I was in pretty good shape. For me the hard part was remembering and relearning all the military protocols and procedures. Things I had just forgotten because I had been out so long. With my current position, I do all the mandatory testing for the Army’s search and extraction training, and their hazardous material operations training.”
Cochran, who is now a Master Sergeant, has two duties he volunteers for – as a Sexual Harassment and Response Program Manager, and a DOD-certified Sexual Assault Victim Advocate. In July of this year, he was given the highest military award for Victim Advocacy by the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), for exceptional advocacy.
“Those two duties are probably the biggest deal to me,” Cochran admitted. “When I think about going back into the military, being able to be a victim’s advocate is probably the biggest thing for me. Somehow I got that award from NOVA and it was probably the biggest deal to me that I’ve ever had.”
Cochran also organizes a cycling event every year to raise awareness about sexual assault. The event is called Cycling Out Sexual Assault and runs from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. This year’s event was canceled because of COVID-19.
“I get on my bicycle and I get on the rail trail and I ride from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.,” he explained. “Along the way I set up meetings with local victims assistance agencies in different counties. I try to do a media event in each one of the places to get people talking about it.”
Cochran plans to retire from the Army National Guard on June 28, 2021, which will be his 60th birthday.
“The best thing about being in the Army is the relationships you get with the man or the woman to your right or to your left,” he said. “You know they always have your back. Even if you don’t get along, you know that if you’re in a pinch or a combat situation, they’re going to be there for you. It’s the people, it really is.”