JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri National Guard recruiters are tasked with the job of enlisting and commissioning the best talent to improve the readiness of the Army and Air National Guard.
That is the task retired Chief Master Sgt. Rich McConnell performed for most of his career in the United States Air Force and Missouri Air National Guard.
While convincing more than 500 new Airmen and officers to join the U.S. military and living by the Air Force core value of “service before self,” he also paved a path for three unsuspecting recruits – his children. The McConnell family is proof that living by the military core values is an example that others will follow.
“I never sold it to my kids as far as presenting it,” said McConnell. “Educating them about it, that was my style of recruiting. ‘Here is what it is: the benefits, the mission and the purpose,’ and it sells itself.”
Two of McConnell’s children joined the Missouri Air National Guard at the 131st Bomb Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base. Nick is a weapons loader, while Sarah is a supply management specialist. The oldest of the three chose the Army National Guard. Rich McConnell Jr., is a second lieutenant who was selected as a chaplain candidate with Family and Warrior Support in March.
The family and Warrior Support office is not a new place for the McConnell family. The kids’ mother, Paula, worked in FWS as a contractor for the Yellow Ribbon Program. And, her service did not stop there. Paula consistently volunteered her time to several family Christmas parties or picnics.
While the McConnell children agree their dad’s role as a Guard recruiter had a small part in their decision to join the military, their reasoning falls more so on the example set by their parents.
“It started when I was young,” said Sarah, the youngest of the three. “He’s instilled those core values in us. And, I wanted to be a part of that. I saw the way he was, and I wanted to be just like that.”
Sarah’s brother agrees.
“We were taught to help others growing up,” said Nick, the 21-year-old senior Airman. “I want more out of the Air Guard. I want to put more in to get the most out of what it has to offer.”
Nick is not content with showing up the one weekend per month. But, he does feel he is a part of something bigger.
“I keep volunteering to do flood duty,” said Nick. “But, we haven’t had a flood, so I can’t do that. I can’t deploy, because I’m in school. But, it has been rewarding.”
The oldest McConnell son chose a military career field that allows him to serve those who serve. One of the newest members of the Missouri Guard’s chaplain corps, the 22-year-old first lieutenant says he has a heart to serve others.
“Soldiers are real people,” said the younger Rich. “Under that uniform is a heart. They may experience different things and go through different things. But, to be able to relate with them, encourage them and be there is rewarding.”
Each of the McConnell siblings is enjoying a rewarding career. Sarah says the people she works with are very encouraging. Nick continues to volunteer for duties beyond the traditional Guardsman weekends. And, Rich has been able to shadow several chaplains on Yellow Ribbon events. Despite their enjoyment, their father is getting more excitement out of his children’s careers.
“I sent a lot of kids through Basic Training, but never been the parent myself to wonder how they’re doing,” said the retired chief master sergeant. “You write feverishly to give them encouragement, but it’s a proud feeling when they march across the parade field and do the eyes-right, or putting on my uniform and saluting my son for the first time. You can tell that it has prepared them to take on anything.”
Now, the McConnells can all say they are a part of the U.S. military. However, they may not be a part of it had they been raised by parents who did not stress service.
“I definitely give a lot of credit to my parents in the way they raised us,” said the son Rich. “The way they raised me, the values, morals and ethics they taught me have definitely contributed to the person I am today.”
Although the former recruiter never directly encouraged his children to join the military, the core values he exemplified when raising his kids paved a path to service. Rich, Nick and Sarah are now part of a Missouri National Guard that their father finds more encouraging than when he retired.
“I’m very proud of all three of them and the service they’re doing,” said the father of three. “I’ve always encouraged any young person to do at least some type of two-year service after high school, whether that is military or some other kind of community involvement to give back. Because, I think that is the fabric of America that is missing sometimes.
“You look at the military today. When there is a mission, and leaders ask, ‘how many people want to go to Afghanistan,’ people raise their hand to go. Even though we have a volunteer force, we have volunteers within the volunteers. It gives you a new hope.”
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