When Christopher Kurowski enlisted into the U.S. Army after graduating from high school on Aug. 26, 2001, he couldn't have imagined what would happen next.
Who could have?
"As I was leaving for basic training, 9/11 happened," Kurowski said. "I was waiting for my flight and the world stopped. It was like, 'OK.'
"That pretty much changed our lives. I went to basic, came back, and from there kept on deploying."
For the Grove City, Ohio, native and resident, thus started a life that's been dedicated to serving others.
Kurowski's military career was decorated, including three overseas deployments and two Bronze Star Medals. Since leaving the Army, he's served the central Ohio community as a firefighter with multiple departments in the area.
For all of that, it's fitting that the Army staff sergeant was recognized by the Blue Jackets on Dec. 28. On First Responders Night, Kurowski had the honor of going onto the ice to appear next to Leo Welsh and the presentation of colors for the singing of the national anthems. Later, as the Elk & Elk Military Salute honoree, he was also shown on the scoreboard and recognized by the crowd for his service during a break in the action in the first period.
"This is a very neat behind the scenes experience," said Kurowski, who attends a handful of Blue Jackets games each season. "Chad Story, a guy I work with, he comes to a lot of games with his son. He came last year during the First Responders appreciation night and was like, 'Why don't we try to do this for Chris?'
"It's very cool to have your own brothers try to make something like this happen for you."
Kurowski had a cheering section of local firefighters in section 201 for the event, and his own support team with him at Nationwide Arena. He was accompanied to the game by his wife, Ashley, whom he married in 2006 before his second deployment to Iraq, as well as his daughters Stella, Gigi, and Annabelle and his father, Carl.
"We're a package deal," Kurowksi said. "That's just how it always is."
Kurowski's three deployments took him to Iraq and Kuwait for a total of 41 months. He spent February 2004 through March 2005 in Tikrit, Iraq, and returned to the country for a 14-month stint at Al Taqaddum Air Base from March 2006 through May 2007.
After a year-long stateside deployment at Camp Atterbury, Ind., from June 2007 through June 2008, he spent July 2010 through September 2011 in Kuwait running missions into Iraq for the withdrawal of troops.
He earned his first Bronze Star during his second deployment to Iraq for using combat life-saving skills to help save the life of an Iraqi civilian. His second came during his third overseas deployment for running the most missions in the platoon while in theatre without any loss of life or injuries.
The Bronze Star is awarded for heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement or meritorious service in a combat zone.
"It's like the feeling of your brothers now trying to show how much they love and support you by doing something like this," he said. "The Army was a great calling for me, and it's one of those right time, right place things.
"I think we all, no matter what, a police officer, a fireman, we always try to show up and do our job. It worked out a couple of times for me in the military. It was nice to be recognized by my leadership. That's the best way I can put it."
After an honorable discharge from the Army in August, Kurowski is able to focus full-time on firefighting. He joined the Scioto Township Fire Department in 2013, and in 2015 he became a full-time firefighter for Pleasant Township.
"I joined the reserves thinking I'll come back and get a job, I still get to serve, and then the deployments just kept happening," he said. "Finally, I could stop, take a break and find out the fire service is what I wanted to do. So it was nice to actually get to pursue that part. As our family grew it was also the time I realized the deployments had to stop at some point, so I did 14 years in the Army as of August."