Richard Irwin '77
Current City: Fairfax Station, Virginia
Hometown: Allentown, Pennsylvania
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement was getting married to Karen Peterman whom I met while attending York College from 1973 to 1977 and having two girls and a boy (Kelly, Matthew, and Kathleen). This past November 2021 we celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary. Additional greatest achievements include: being hired by the CIA right out of college when I was 22 years old at a time when the CIA had over 100,000 applicants and only hired 54 people that year; serving in the CIA for 28 years; being part of one of the original teams of CIA officers to deploy to Afghanistan following 9/11; being asked to serve at the White House for three years under President George W. Bush; being asked to assist Governor Tom Ridge in establishing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as part of the largest U.S. Government reorganization in the past 50 years; and lastly, writing my memoirs in a book entitled “KH601, And Yea Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free; My Time in the Central Intelligence Agency” published in May of 2010.
How did York College help you get to where you are today?
After graduating from Parkland High School in Orefield, Pennsylvania, I was offered the opportunity to attend York College to study Police Science and wrestle under first year wrestling coach, Rich Achtzehn. I learned a lot under Coach Achtzehn, especially the importance of being disciplined and getting good grades. I was proud to be part of the Spartan wrestling team that finished fourth at the 1974 NAIA National Championship tournament; the highest finish in York College’s history. During my four years at York College, I also learned to surround myself with positive people so that I would remain positive; to try and wake up in a good mood and go to bed in a good mood; to always keep trying and to never give up; and lastly, that life is too short so you need to live life to the fullest every day.
What was your favorite class/professor at York College and how did it/they impact you?
Four of my favorite college professors were History professor Dr. James Morrison, who I had for a course entitled “Civil War and Reconstruction”; History professor Dr. Carl Hatch; English professor, Dr. Dean Bernard; and Biology professor, Irene Austin. I can still remember Dr. Morrison conducting class outside in the fall while mounted on a huge white horse dressed from head to toe in a gray Confederate Civil War uniform with the rank of Colonel. Dr. Hatch was a real character. During the first day of his class, while dressed in a suit and tie, he would tell everyone in a very serious, somber tone that we would be having “spot” quizzes during the week, a test every Friday, and a mid-term, and final exam during the semester. Afterwards, he lectured us for the entire hour. During the next two classes, he provided a similar boring monotone lecture for the entire hour, and even gave us a surprise “pop” quiz. With the number of students noticeably shrinking during each subsequent class, on the fourth day of class, as I entered the classroom, the first thing I noticed was that instead of the classroom being laid out in rows, the desks and chairs were assembled in a circle. The second item that caught my eye was Dr. Hatch dressed in casual khaki pants and a brown cardigan sweater. What really surprised me however, was that our class size had dwindled down to around 12 to 15 students from 30. Dr Hatch’s opening remarks went something like this: “Now that we are down to the students that really want to be in my class, there will not be any lecturing, and neither will there be any pop quizzes, tests, mid-terms, or final exams”. Instead, over the course of the semester, during each class Dr. Hatch provided us with a topic for discussion that we, in turn, would give our opinion on, or debate. Looking back, I probably learned more in this class than all of the other classes combined at York College. To top it off, Dr. Hatch was a pilot and owned a small Cessna 110 airplane. During the semester he would invite each student to fly with him, and having never been in a small plane before, this was quite an experience. To thank him, I remember buying him a bottle of Irish Whiskey. Lastly, after not being accepted into the Pennsylvania State Police, after applying during my junior year of college, I owe a lot to Sociology and Behavioral Science professor Gary Bittner who encouraged me to apply to the CIA, the FBI, the USSS, and the State Department, which I did. After a battery of psychological and sociological aptitude tests, a written examination, a physical examination, a background investigation, and a polygraph examination, I finally received a phone call informing me to report to CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia on 11 September 1977, a date which would later be immortalized in history with attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
What did you enjoy the most about your chosen career?
Looking back at my career in the CIA, as Senior Special Operations Program Officer, someone that plans and executes operations on behalf of the CIA against terrorist targets, narcotic traffickers, proliferation and organized crime figures, and illegal alien smugglers, little did I know that this journey would take me to 87 countries in the world, afford me the opportunity to learn three languages (Spanish, Italian, and French); serve overseas at three U.S. Embassy’s (Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Madrid, Spain; and Rome, Italy); serve under eight Directors of the Central Intelligence Agency (DCI’s); take me to the White House to serve a President (George W. Bush); and end at a newly created domestic agency known as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). At my CIA retirement ceremony in April 2005, following my 28 years of service, I received the Intelligence Medal of Merit which is awarded by the Central Intelligence Agency for performance of especially meritorious service and for achievement conspicuously above normal duties; the Career Intelligence Medal which is awarded by the Central Intelligence Agency for a cumulative record of service which reflects exceptional achievements that substantially contributed to the mission of the Agency; and the Silver Retirement Medallion awarded by the Central Intelligence Agency for a career of 25 years or more with the Agency.
I recently decided to step down and only work part-time at Culmen International, LLC in Alexandria, Virginia where I served as President and COO and headed Special Programs for the past six years. During the next few months, I look forward to helping Military Veterans and First Responders with PTSD as a PATH Guide/Instructor at Boulder Crest in Bluemont, Virginia.
View all of the 2022 Spartans of the Year award recipients.