One little boy’s dream of becoming a knight never truly changed. Growing up surrounded by family who served in the military, including a grandma who was a real-life Rosie the Riveter, pushed Brian McDowell into the Marines.

McDowell, of Union, said he always liked the idea of being a knight.

“I know it sounds cheesy, but what little kid doesn’t want to fight dragons and save people?” he said.

Two of McDowell’s grandparents served in the military.

“I admired them and I wanted to be a Marine,” he said. “It’s the ideology of service and honor and doing something (meaningful). That’s kind of where it came from.”

He said he didn’t enlist in the Marines until after college because he received a full scholarship to Portland State University. He became an enlisted personnel in 2000 after he graduated.

“My ultimate goal was to be a sniper,” he said of his intent in joining the Marines. “I liked shooting and running around and chasing bad guys.”

However, when he got to the end of boot camp, literally two days before graduating, his commanding officers had him take a series of tests and speak to a psychologist.

McDowell didn’t know it at the time, but his superiors were evaluating him for work in the intelligence office for the Department of Defense.

He said they explained the assignment as “working with snipers and reconnaissance Marines and special forces (and) going to headquarters and analyzing (data). They said I wouldn’t be in the field all the time.”

After receiving clearance, McDowell went into more training — and loved it. He said he was even good at it.

“My (training) was different,” he said. “I had a (college) degree and I learned (the aspects of the) Intelligence really well.”

It took nearly a year of training, which included assignments in the Pentagon. Then he was sent to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was responsible for learning about weather, terrain and the enemy.

“You have to make sure the corroborating forces have everything they need to know (for a mission),” McDowell said. “You fuse all the intelligence together. You have to make sure the guys who kick the door down have everything they need to know (to complete their mission successfully).”

That can be anything from what kind of vehicles to use and what gear is needed to what the building looks like and if the weather will have any impact on the mission.

Regarding the enemy, McDowell said he had to study their doctrine, their strategies and the equipment they had. He had to know about the entire network plus the important individuals.

“It’s a sophisticated asymmetric warfare,” he said. “You’re coordinating with all the different departments. I was part of a task force and our group had access to every intelligence agency there was.”

McDowell served for 15 years at the Department of Defense field. He still is called to help sometimes, but mostly in an advisory role.

He said the most challenging part during his service was the shift in national strategy.

“We went from winning wars to managing the risks,” he said. “In my opinion, if we’re going to employ military forces, then the objective should be about winning the war — only to the point that you need to, not excessively. There’s always going to be some politics involved, but I saw a major shift.”

He said it wasn’t under a specific administration — he saw it under multiple presidents — it was more of a broader United States political shift.

“It was people in the military thinking more politically than they have historically,” he said. “It wasn’t just one party or president. It was the posture in the national command structure that just started creeping in.”

On the other side, though, the best part was knowing he was making a difference. He was slaying dragons.

See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.