By Debra Roberts, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Enduring a long-distance relationship, being deployed overseas when you are just starting a family, facing dangerous situations and not knowing what the future holds for you when you return – these are just a few of the many sacrifices made by our servicemen. Northborough resident Kevin P. Conway and his family have lived with these sacrifices for over two decades. On April 1, Conway retired after 21 years of serving his country as a United States Marine non-commissioned officer.
Conway was deployed three times. The first time was to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, from 2001-2002 for Operation Enduring Freedom. This was just a year after he was married to his wife Naoko, whom he met while stationed in Japan. From 2005 to 2006, he was stationed in Iraq just outside of Fallujah. Even though he was not on active duty at that time, he was called up to replace a fellow non-commissioned officer who had been injured in a car accident. There, he was a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) defense specialist, where he trained soldiers to prepare for a biological, chemical or nuclear attack. While in Iraq, he missed the birth of his son, Satoshi, and the death of his father.
His last deployment was to Afghanistan from 2011-2012 where he was the kennel master, in charge of training bomb-sniffing dogs.
Naoko said she is proud of her husband but extremely relieved to have him back to stay in Northborough.
“It was tough to raise kids without my husband, especially being an immigrant, but I am very proud of my husband’s 21 years of service,” she said.
Their three children, Kaz (10), Satoshi (9) and Niko (6) are happy as well. They have spent much of their young lives either without their daddy home or wondering if he will have to soon leave again.
Conway comes from a military family. His late father, Thomas M. Conway of Somerville, served in World War II and the Korean War. Born in Foxborough, Conway and his parents moved to Northborough in 1972. He joined the military in 1994, and met his future wife in Iwakuni, Japan, in 1997. They carried on a long-distance relationship while they made plans to marry and apply for citizenship for Naoko. During this time, Conway moved back to Northborough and worked on his master’s degree in education with a concentration in history at Worcester State University.
The couple married in 2000 and Naoko started her life in Northborough, gracefully adjusting to a new language and culture and dealing with her husband’s deployment. She has been a working mom and an active volunteer in her kids’ activities, serving as both a Cub Scout den leader and Daisy troop leader. She makes regular pilgrimages back to Japan with her children so they can visit her family and understand their heritage.
“I could not have done it without my family, friends, and community support,” Naoko said. “I really appreciate the support I got from the community during Kevin’s deployment and would like to return the support to the community.”
She specifically mentioned and thanked her mother-in-law Bernice R. Conway, whom she said was extremely helpful in caring for her grandchildren.
During his tour in Afghanistan, Conway said he felt much different about his overseas assignments. Not only was he leaving his family behind, but he was sent to a very rural area and felt older than his officers. He feels confident that it is the right time for him to retire.
“It’s really a younger man’s game,” he said.
Conway was honorably discharged with the rank of gunnery sergeant. He retired at CLB (Combat Logistics Battalion) 451 in Charlotte, N.C., with a Color Guard and full retirement ceremony. There, Conway recalled his son Kaz saying, “I’m proud of you, Daddy.”
Naoko organized a local retirement party for her husband at the Vincent F. Picard American Legion Post 234 in Northborough, which took place on April 10. About fifty guests attended.
Conway and his family are looking forward to the next phase of their lives. He is currently teaching a GED program in West Boylston.