Ohio assistant ordered to report to Army

Kevin Kuwik went to his mailbox last Friday, pulled out a letter from the U.S. Army and expected to read about his official discharge.

"I opened it up and it was my orders to report," the Ohio University assistant men's basketball coach told ESPN.com late Monday night after he told the Bobcats' players.


Yes. He must report to Fort Sill, Okla., by Sept. 24. The one-time Notre Dame ROTC commissioned engineer officer, who thought he had fulfilled his eight-year service agreement last season, will be property of the U.S. Army for up to 545 days.

"I talked to a couple of colonels and they said you could be in Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany or here, and all told me to be prepared for the worst," Kuwik said. "They (the Army) need bodies everywhere. I'm going to fill a slot for someone who was hurt, rotated out, or ... "

Killed in action?

"Yes," Kuwik said.

Kuwik's coaching career is on hold for two seasons. He's feverishly trying to finish summer recruiting, find someone to live in his new home in Athens, Ohio, and get his financial matters resolved.

Instead of coaching Ohio in the MAC this season, he could be helping tanks get through a minefield in Iraq. MAC coaches love to talk about how tough it is to go on the road to places like Kent State, Toledo, Western Michigan, Miami of Ohio and Bowling Green. How about Fallujah and Baghdad?

It's not even close.

"It's been a crazy 72 hours,'' Kuwik said. "It's real bittersweet. I know I was so close to being out and should have been out. That keeps replaying in my mind. But two of my best friends just got back from Iraq. Both of my grandfathers served in World War II in Europe. The bottom line is that I got called up and I was still on the list and the right thing is to go."

Over Labor Day weekend, the Ohio staff had a barbecue at the home of fellow assistant Brian Townsend, who a year ago tragically lost his wife, Rachel, when she collapsed and died after finishing the Chicago marathon. Kuwik's parents came in for the barbecue from their home in Buffalo, N.Y.

"I wouldn't feel right with my two good friends going,'' said Kuwik of his friends who have returned from their tour in Iraq. "My dad understands. It's been tough on my mom. She is thinking about the worst-case scenario. Right or wrong or indifferent about the war, no one will be excited if I have to go to Iraq."

"It was somber when we took pictures," Ohio head coach Tim O'Shea said, "because we don't know what is going to happen to him."

And he's not alone. Kuwik, 30, is the second men's college basketball assistant to be called up from the IRR -- Individual Ready Reserve -- in the past two weeks. Alabama State assistant coach Courtney Stephens, 34, who hadn't served in the military in 10 years, got his letter in early August, left the school and is supposed to report to Fort Jackson, S.C., by Sept. 15.

Both men are being directly affected by the U.S. Army's June directive to recall up to 6,000 former soldiers. According to news reports, there are approximately 111,000 soldiers on IRR. They are on the IRR for various reasons, which could include staying in the military for pension purposes. Members of the IRR don't have to train but do have active status. The last time former soldiers were recalled involuntarily was during the 1991 Gulf War and in 1968 in Vietnam.

Kuwik and Stephens fit the needs of the Army's on-call list. Stephens was commissioned in communications.

Kuwik worked in the basketball offices at Notre Dame under then coach John MacLeod while also in the ROTC program. When he got out, he was supposed to serve four years of active duty. He served two years at Fort Lewis in Seattle. Then, through an early-out program that he applied to and was accepted, he served in the Arkansas National Guard since his first coaching job was at Division II Christian Brothers University in nearby Memphis, Tenn.

He owed the Army four more years, thinking it would be on the IRR. He didn't do any military service while he was an assistant at D-II St. Michael's in Vermont. After one season working for Tim's brother, Tom O'Shea, he went with Tim to Ohio in 2001. During his first two years at Ohio, he served in a unit out of Columbus, going one weekend a month with flexibility during the season. So, if he couldn't go, he would make up the days in the offseason. He wasn't called for duty last season, which he thought was his last on the IRR.

When the directive came from the Army in late June, Kuwik began e-mailing his classmates at Notre Dame, trying to find out how he could go through the official discharge paperwork. He was caught up in the July recruiting period and didn't get the official resignation letter that he had to fill out until Aug. 2. He sent it certified mail, and it was received Aug. 14.

"I thought I was done," Kuwik said.

Instead, he received the orders with his name, address, position and report site and date as part of the "President's orders to mobilize Operation Iraqi Freedom."

Kuwik doesn't have a wife or children or a girlfriend, saying "I date my job." His father is a lifelong Democrat. So is he. But he said once he's in the military it's important to stay neutral.

"It's not that the war isn't the right thing, but it's, 'are we doing it the right way, by being so aggressive when they (the Iraqis) don't want our help?'" Kuwik said. "We've put our citizens at risk, and it does make you scratch your head a bit."

Like Stephens, Kuwik will go to a base for 25-30 days for a physical and psychological testing before receiving his orders to be deployed. He could be sent to somewhere in the U.S., Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany or anywhere else there is a need.

Both programs are feeling the immediate effects. Kuwik was one of three assistant coaches on O'Shea's staff. He was one of the two key recruiters with John Rhodes. He was and has been the glue on the staff. O'Shea won't hire a permanent replacement. He could if he wanted. So, too, could Alabama State coach Rob Spivery. But both decided they would bump up grad assistant coaches while their assistants are in the army.

"I don't know what the rules are, but this is the right thing to do,'' O'Shea said. "Coaching is a weird profession. It's not like being in charge of the food service at the cafeteria. That job is going to be there. There is no guarantee this job would be.

"The dilemma for us here, and I'm sure it's the same at Alabama State, is what could happen in two years. Coaching is based on relationships. But I owe it to Kevin that when he comes back he can come back to his job and re-start his coaching career. I don't think it's right to bring someone in new.''

But that could be somewhere else if O'Shea were to move on or if he got fired then the job might not exist. Kuwik said the army salary is close to what he's making at Ohio so he won't have a problem making his mortgage payment, although he still wants a renter.

Spivery said Stephens moved his family -- his wife and two kids, a 3-year-old and 6-month-old -- to his wife's parents home in Louisiana last week, and Alabama State will help make up the difference in his army and coaching salary.

"I'm really disappointed that this came about,'' said Spivery, who led Alabama State to the SWAC tournament title and to the NCAAs last season before a first-round loss to Duke. "It's going to be very difficult for us to find someone who had similar experience. We can't and that's why we'll move someone up. Courtney did a lot for us and we'll have to piece things together without him. He's the first player I recruited (in 1997) here. We can't just replace him.

"He's expecting the worst and (to) be transferred over there (to Iraq). It's been very emotional for me and for him. We visited privately before he left, and he shared some personal thoughts with me. It was very touching and very upsetting at the same time. Whether you agree or disagree, he has duties to carry out. It's not just the individual affected but everyone else, too. We have a small staff and it will affect us not having him around.''

O'Shea said he will accompany Kuwik on recruiting visits this week since Kuwik will be leaving. He wasn't planning on going. The Bobcats will likely talk to one of their top recruits out of the Baltimore area, a player whom Kuwik had been recruiting for months. Kuwik is hoping to get a two-week delay on his report date so he can at least have closure on recruiting before he disappears from the program for the next two seasons.

"I'm not being political, but it seems unfair when someone legitimately does their service and requests to be discharged only to be pulled back in,'' O'Shea said. "It seems like a backdoor draft. It's not like leaving your job at the post office. The job might not be there when he gets out because two seasons can be a lifetime in coaching. Kevin did it right, working his way up from the lowest level job, from being a third assistant to being my second assistant and now it's all on hold.''

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.