The Times West Virginian

November 14, 2013

Military service helped Richard Forren toward career in architecture

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Veteran Richard Forren is proud of his more than 30 years of military service, which he said has provided him with opportunities and skills that he couldn’t have found any place else.

Right out of high school at the age of 18, Forren decided to join the United States Army. He said he didn’t have the money to go to college, and he wasn’t sure that he had the maturity to do well in school, either. He started his military career about 20 days after graduation.

Forren’s first duty station was with the 2nd Infantry Division in Camp Casey in Korea, where he stayed for a year. He started out as an armor crewman, which means he was involved with the tanks. He then returned to the United States, going to Fort Riley in Kansas with the 1st Infantry Division.

While Forren was stationed in Korea, a colonel asked him what he wanted to do in life, and he replied that he had thought about being an architect. When the colonel inquired if he was good in math, Forren answered that he didn’t know, which led him to pursue an engineering program to strengthen his ability to deal with math issues.

Following his three years on active duty, he immediately began college, with the G.I. Bill paying his way. He obtained his undergraduate degree in civil engineering from Fairmont State and went on to earn his master’s degree in architecture from Virginia Tech.

After graduating in 1983, Forren started his architecture career in Morgantown and then joined Omni Associates-Architects in Fairmont a year later. He is a principal and architect for the firm, which designs buildings and sees them through construction.

The company is involved in all types of commercial structures as well as some multi-family residential projects. It is licensed in West Virginia and all the surrounding states, as well as in New York, South Carolina and Florida.

Since joining Omni Associates nearly 30 years ago, Forren has done pretty much everything related to the business. As one of the owners, he focuses on design and marketing work, and managing projects on the construction administration side.

“From a leadership standpoint, nobody does a better job of training leaders than the military does, and so that is always helpful in any kind of business,” he said. “As a matter of fact, a lot of businesses use the military model for training their leaders.”

With an obligation for some time with the Army Reserves, Forren was commissioned as an officer and became part of the Army Corps of Engineers. For most of his career, he has been a combat engineer officer in various positions, from platoon leader to company commander to battalion commander. He is currently a colonel.

Forren said he especially enjoyed his time as a company commander because he had more direct contact with the privates, sergeants and everyone involved, rather than just the officers.

He commented that his time in the military has really made him appreciate what he has in life.

“You’re not so concerned about the petty things in life because you know that out there in many of these other countries, they’re just trying to survive,” he said.

Forren has been to places throughout the United States and across the world. In Central America, he was involved in constructing schools and clinics in Panama, building roads in Honduras and also creating clinics in El Salvador.

“The military has been good because it’s taken me everywhere,” he said.

Two and a half years ago, Forren took on the position of emergency preparedness liaison officer for West Virginia, working out of Region 3 of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Philadelphia. In this position, he collaborates with the National Guard and the Department of Defense on any emergencies that happen in West Virginia where support is needed.

“Not only am I helping people, I’m helping people right here in West Virginia,” he said.

Forren provided assistance during the derecho and when Hurricane Sandy dumped snow on West Virginia. In addition, he was present at the 2013 National Scout Jamboree and ready to provide a contingency response in the case of an emergency.

He said he had military aspirations in his blood because his late father Kenneth was career military on active duty with the Army. As he was growing up, the family lived in Japan and Germany and a number of other locations.

“One of the things that the military does is provide a sense of responsibility,” Forren said. “And, of course, I think I’ve always had the sense, and probably due to my father’s military career, of providing service to the country. That’s always been instilled in me.”

His older brother John, who now lives in Philadelphia, Pa., was in the Army. His late younger brother, Charles, was in the Navy.

Forren said his family’s history of military service always gives Veterans Day a special meaning for him. He also believes strongly in paying tribute to all those who are willing to sacrifice to help protect this country and those who have passed away.

He and his children Bradley and Amy all live in the Bridgeport area, and his daughter Leah resides in Columbus, Ohio.

“I have a very supportive family,” Forren said.

He said Omni Associates has also always supported his military career.

“I didn’t really expect to stay in the military as long as I have,” Forren said. “But it’s been very rewarding, very enjoyable, and I think that’s what kept me in it all this time, being able to go out and help people.”

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.