CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Twenty years is the retirement goal for many young Marines, but one Marine’s time in service nearly doubles the mark.
With 37 years in the Marine Corps, the grand old man of Regimental Combat Team 7, Lt. Col. Jeffrey J. Kenney, intended to retire during 2003. But when the war began, he could not say goodbye while other Marines were serving in combat.
“I just couldn’t retire during a war,” said Kenney, Afghan security force officer in charge, RCT-7. “I thought I could help with my experience.”
Kenney joined the Marine Corps during 1975 with no intention of re-enlisting. After serving with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, he decided to stay in because he enjoyed being a platoon sergeant with his Marines and aspired going to Marine Reconnaissance.
“When I joined, I wanted to do four years and get out,” said Kenney, from Hartford, Conn.
Four years turned into 37 for Kenney. From his days with 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, to now with RCT-7, he has served with 2nd Marines, 7th Marines, 8th Marines, Marine Corps Recruiting Command twice, Marine Corps security guard duty, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, infantry officer course twice and the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, to name a few stations.
Kenney, 55, is what Marines call a mustang. He served his first 12 years as an enlisted Marine and was commissioned as an officer during 1987.
Kenney uses his experience as a prior enlisted Marine to mentor and teach the Marines around him.
“He can relate to the younger enlisted Marines,” said Maj. Rudy Salcido, commander, Headquarters Company, RCT-7. “He brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. He’s able to mentor down from the junior Marine all the way up to the senior officers the same way.”
When Salcido, from Tucson, Ariz., was attending infantry officer course during 2001, Kenney was the director of the course.
“He set the example,” said Salcido. “Every time he stepped in, he did it at the right time. As a student, I could tell it was leadership at it’s finest.”
Salcido considers Kenney one of his role models and still comes to him for advice.
“I’ve seen him mentor some of my other mentors,” said Salcido. “That’s what he is, he’s a lifelong mentor.”
Being well respected by his fellow Marines does not make Kenney immune to the good-natured ribbing Marines often share.
“They make jokes about me knowing Chesty Puller or Dan Daly,” said Kenney between laughs. “They’ll see the old recruiting pictures from World War II and ask me if that helmet was comfortable.”
The Marine Corps will celebrate its birthday Nov. 10. As is tradition, Kenney will receive the first piece of cake as the oldest Marine present. It is a familiar custom.
“This will be my third (Marine Corps) birthday as the oldest Marine,” said Kenney. “I was kind of expecting it this year.”
Many Marines will never be part of the cake cutting ceremony. The oldest Marine receives the first piece of cake and the youngest receives the second. For Kenney, he is a professional at both positions.
“I joined when I was 17,” said Kenney. “My first two years in the Corps, I was the youngest Marine at the ceremony.”
That makes this cake cutting the fifth for the Hartford, Conn., native.
He is more than twice the age of the youngest Marine and has more time in the Marine Corps than the youngest Marine has in life.
“It’s humbling to see him still working the way he does,” said Salcido. “It’s humbling to see the energy he still brings after all these years.”
This is Kenney’s 12th and likely final deployment. He served many years and brings his own credibility to the line in the Marines’ Hymn, “We have fought in every clime and place.” From the United States, Okinawa, Iran, Germany, Iraq and Afghanistan, he has served the Marine Corps faithfully.
“I will definitely retire before 2015,” said Kenney. “I don’t want to hit that 40-year mark.”
Until he retires, he will continue mentoring and shaping Marines at each level. His experience is a welcome source of knowledge for the new private all the way to the more experienced officers.
Editor’s note: vice Editors notes: This article is part of a series wherein every week we recognize an individual Marine or sailor with Regimental Combat Team 7. The Marines and sailors of RCT-7 are dedicated, disciplined and driven to accomplish the mission, and the Marine in this article has earned special recognition for standing out among these professionals. Be sure to check every week to see who will be honored as the latest Marine of the Week.