Story and photo by Spc. Albert L. Kelley
300th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Pfc. Robert J. Goggins started his college career with the goal of becoming a mechanical engineer. Instead, he joined the Army as an infantryman.
His life as a Soldier in Afghanistan is markedly different than his life as a NASA intern and student at the University of Virginia, but he said he gets a lot of satisfaction from it.
“I’ve really enjoyed my Army experience so far,” said Goggins, gunner, 2nd Platoon, Company D, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
Goggins spends his days in Afghanistan riding in a turret or carrying an M4 carbine.
At night, Goggins can be found scanning his sector of responsibility during guard duty. Like every other member of his unit, he constantly searches for potential threats to himself and his fellow Soldiers as he deals with cold weather and boredom.
“He’s super intelligent, and he sees things through analytical eyes,” said Staff Sgt. Douglas R. Middleton, Goggins’ platoon sergeant. “I could see him being in the Special Forces community.”
Before he joined the Army, Goggins was set on becoming an engineer. To gain exposure to the field, he applied for an internship with NASA on a family member’s recommendation.
“I loved my experience at NASA,” he said. “It was my first exposure to how engineers really work.”
He was amazed at what the agency accomplished with 1960s’ technology.
“I remember seeing the analog gauges,” Goggins said. “That’s when it occurred to me that we sent a man to the moon with analog dials.”
He said his most memorable experience was visiting the massive structures that held the rockets during test firings.
“The test stands were huge,” Goggins said. “It was beyond believable.”
Despite the experience gained at NASA, he decided a career in mechanical engineering might not be his calling.
“I never really felt the spark there,” Goggins said. “I felt like if I spent the rest of my life doing something I don’t like that I’m wasting my life. I wanted to see the real world.”
Seeking a new direction
following a series of personal
setbacks, including having to return home to help his family because of flooding from Hurricane Katrina, Goggins took inventory of his past career experiences.
One particular experience he recalled was fighting his first fire as a volunteer fireman at UVA.
“Going into my first fire, I was scared to death, but I pushed all that to the side,” Goggins said. “I remember walking out of the fire and seeing the other rookies looking at me with jealous eyes. That’s when I knew that I liked this kind of stuff. It’s kind of why I joined the Army.”