KABUL, Afghanistan - He grew up with nine brothers and sisters in a low-income neighborhood. His father was a machinist and was dealing with the constraints of a family budget where there wasn't much room for many family comforts. His parents were hard working and passed that belief on the children.
As a teenager, Army Maj. Mark F. Donahue felt there was no escape to a more stable life and dropped out of school at age 18. At 50, he has not only escaped the negative aspects of his past, but he looks forward to a future of helping others also achieve success.
U.S. Army Maj. Mark Donahue poses for a photo in front of the flag plaza outside International Security Assistance Force Joint Command headquarters at North Kabul International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 6, 2013. Donahue was assigned as the Army National Guard's lead joint force manager. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)
Since entering the military, Donahue has returned to high school for his diploma, earned a Bachelor's degree from Southern Illinois University and a Master degree from Webster University.
“Dropping out of high school was the biggest regret in my life, but it gave me a greater since of value for higher education,” he said.
Donahue is serving a tour of duty at Kabul Afghanistan International Airport with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Joint Command (IJC) and is serving as the lead National Guard Joint Force Manager. Donahue, a Worchester, Mass., native, arrived in theatre in December 2012.
However, in those teen years, he faced a crisis of identity. He felt that the dysfunctional youth in his neighborhood was pulling him in.
“I was a trouble maker” said Donahue. “I was in the wrong crowd and had to fight to gain respect”
Aspiring to do and be more, Donahue reflected on his family's legacy of military service and decided to make his own contributions. His father, several uncles and all three brothers have served in the military.
Donahue's military career started in 1981 in the Massachusetts Army National Guard. After basic training, he found a new purpose and sense of belonging. Donahue said it allowed him to be something greater than what he could be alone.
“I came home from basic training and knew I wanted to go back,” he said. “The military gave me benefits, escape and education.”
Donahue spent four years in the Army National Guard before transferring to the Navy, where he served for another eight. Prior to his third deployment with the Navy, he met a woman that would change his life. Her name was Heidi Moser Gwynn.
After approximately 10 months of dating, they decided to secretly get married before that deployment. The wedding had to be in secret, they felt, because of the time constraint. They wanted family and friends to attend but there wasn't time to do it, Donahue said.
It wasn't until he returned from duty that they disclosed it to their family. Until then, the only ones who knew of their wedding were the judge who married them and their dog, Tissie, who served as a witness to the event. After the mobilization, they had a formal wedding with family and friends in July 1989.
“Heidi is awesome,” said Donahue. “ She has been there more for me through my career and I have found I want more out of life because of her. She takes care of me well.”
Heidi is the daughter of Col. (Ret.) John and his wife, Ruth Gwynn. Col. Gwynn served in World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam, completing seven deployments. Donahue has confided in him over the years and he has been a great mentor during his career.
Donahue has served in many capacities since his return to the Army National Guard in 1993. He chose to leave the Navy and return to the Guard because he wanted to devote time towards his new family. It also allowed him to work towards achieving a commission and serve as an officer.
After the events of 9/11, he has devoted his time to all three major theatres of operations - Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Iraqi Freedom and now Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
He has also worked at the Army National Guard Readiness Center in Arlington, Va. in the Offices of Force Management and Mobilization Readiness. These experiences led him to his current assignment of assisting International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and national leadership decrease the number of hardships facing the National Guard and Reserve forces during force structure reductions.
Lt. Col Howard L. Schauer, a program manager at the National Guard Readiness Center in Washington D.C., has worked alongside Donahue since 2010. He said he admired Donahue's dedication to serve abroad in the interests of the United States.
“Maj. Donahue is a selfless patriot,” said Schauer.
One of Donahue's biggest professional concerns is the current fiscal crisis commonly referred to as sequestration. He said he understands this is something that the Army will have to work through carefully. However, he is concerned about his future since he received notice he may be released from active duty upon completion of his mobilization. He is one of many left uncertain about their future because of the effects of sequestration.
“My short term goal is take the experience that I have gained from my year-long deployment and bring that back to the Guard like some of my predecessors have done so well,” he said.
Donahue believes that the Army needs to insure it maintains the relationships between the active component and the reserves because it will be integral for the progress of the Army. He says with the effects of sequestration on the military, the degradation of capabilities will directly affect the United States overall readiness.
This comes as a big concern for his family. His son, Alan, has applied and accepted to attend seven different colleges, but has already expressed interest in joining the Air Force and is waiting for the Air Force Academy's decision for acceptance.
“Alan is going to succeed no matter what he does,” said Donahue.
A younger son, Brandon, Donahue describes as talented and driven like his older brother. At age 15, he has not yet determined what he wants to do in the future.
Donahue is happy that after a decade of devotion to the Army's mission, he can return home and be more devoted to his wife and his family. He is proud that he will see his sons through college and watch them become “excellent adults.”
“Everything is about family right now,” he said. “They have committed so much time without me and now I get the opportunity to spend time with them.”
By U.S. Army Maj. Brooks Little
Provided through DVIDS
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