News: 69th ADA ops SGM retires after 29 years of service
Story by Sgt. Kimberly Lessmeister
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Thomas Kenney III didn’t know it when he joined the Army in 1985, but he’d retire 29 years later as a sergeant major.
Kenney, a Brookville, Ohio, native, began his military career as a Vulcan cannon gunner with 2nd Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery Battalion, 2nd Armored Division and ended it as the operations sergeant major for 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, here.
At his first duty assignment, Kenney got his first taste of Army life.
Kenney’s platoon sergeant at the time, Sgt. 1st Class Nathaniel Solomon, was a 6-foot-3-inch former Marine who had served in Vietnam.
One of Kenney’s first memories of his platoon sergeant is Solomon telling Kenney to look at Solomon’s spit-shined jump boots, and then challenging Kenney for his boots to look better than his own.
“He truly led by example and had an impact on the rest of my career,” said Kenney.
Still, Kenney wasn’t sure if the Army was for him, he said.
It wasn’t until he spent five and a half years stationed in South Korea that he said he realized that the Army could be his career choice for life.
In 2004, Kenney helped 35th ADA Bde. transition from Fort Bliss, Texas, to South Korea.
During that time, he met Col. James Payne, who is currently the brigade commander for 30th ADA Bde. at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
“He was really tactically and technically proficient,” said Payne. “He was a very caring guy, so when you put those two (traits) together, you just really had a really dynamic noncommissioned officer.”
Payne and Kenney worked closely to ensure a smooth transition for the Soldiers of 35th ADA Bde., and in turn, formed a relationship that was equally as close, Payne said.
Following his tour to South Korea, Kenney took on several other assignments including battery first sergeant in an air defense artillery battalion and the training sergeant major of 1st Armored Division.
Though he didn’t actually attend the U.S. Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, until 2002, Kenney filled sergeant major positions.
While attending the academy, Kenney had the task of doing a project on the first Sergeant Major of the Army, William O. Wooldridge.
Kenney said he visited and interviewed Wooldridge at Wooldridge’s home several times.
“He shared numerous stories about his career, military leadership, the history of the U.S. Army NCO Corps, and the establishment of the office of the Sergeant Major of the Army,” said Kenney.
The time spent with Wooldridge had a major impact on Kenney, he said.
After having strong leadership like Solomon and interacting with important Army figures such as Wooldridge, Kenney said he learned what right looked like and strived to leave his own path.
“Every person you come in contact with, you learn something good, bad, or indifferent about their leadership or management style,” Kenney explained.
To this day, Kenney still receives emails from people with whom he has served, he said.
Kenney passed what he learned from his leaders onto his Soldiers and other leaders he worked with, including Payne.
“His job was making sure Soldiers were well trained, taken care of, and prepared for the mission at hand,” Payne said. “Everything he did was to that end and to me that really taught me a lot as far as the diligence he took to do that.”
Affecting individual Soldiers is something Kenney prides himself on, but affecting a nation is what happened during one of his favorite assignments, he said.
During his deployment to Afghanistan from 2012-2013, Kenney served as the Sergeant Major of Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktya, which he said was his most rewarding assignment.
"The reason it was the most rewarding position was because we affected the future of a nation," Kenney said.
Provincial Reconstruction Team Paktya began operations in January 2003 at Forward Operating Based Gardez, and was America's very first PRT, according to the PRT’s Facebook page, which has more than 1,500 “likes” or fans.
“A provincial reconstruction team is an interim civil-military organization designed to operate in semi-permissive environments usually following open hostilities,” reads the Afghanistan PRT Handbook, produced by the Center for Army Lessons Learned. “The PRT is intended to improve stability in a given area by helping build the host nation’s capacity; reinforcing the host nation’s legitimacy and effectiveness; and bolstering that the host nation can provide security to its citizens and deliver essential government services.”
PRT Paktya consisted of more than 80 joint, interagency, coalition and host-nation personnel operating in partnership with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, all of whom fell under Kenney’s responsibility.
The team included members from the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, United States Department of State, United States Agency for International Development, and the Department of Agriculture.
“Having that level of responsibility ... was very unique,” Kenney explained. “I often tell my family it was almost like having a mini embassy.”
Even though Kenney will no longer serve in uniform, Payne said he is confident Kenney didn’t leave on “an empty tank of gas.”
“He’s a guy who prepared for this … got his education and has other things lined up,” he said. “I am sure that whatever organization he is a part of, he’s going to bring just as much energy and passion and help that organization.”
Now that he is retired, Kenney said the only thing he would change is the amount of time he spent with his wife and son.
“For about 20 years, I placed the Army first, and that was terrific for my career because I moved up quickly,” Kenney said. “(But) the consequences of that was that my family suffered.”
Kenney said his family stood behind him through every obstacle over his 29 years of service and they stood by him as they attended his retirement award ceremony held June 26 at 69th ADA Bde. headquarters, here.
In his closing speech during his retirement ceremony, Kenney included some advice for Soldiers who hoped to do as he did and retire from the military:
“You have to know what the standard is no matter the task, and then do what it takes to meet and exceed the established standard. Know what the regulations and standards are … and know why things are the way they are. Take extra time to know your Soldiers and their families before trouble rears its head. Know the second and third order effects of decisions you make. Make and spend time to prepare your team, squad, or platoon for their wartime tasks and missions. If you are not using every cent of your tuition assistance, shame on you! It paid for my three degrees and if you’re not using it you are simply throwing money away,” Kenney said. “Finally, never forget your family. They will be there when you do take off your uniform. Take the time to tell them, and show them, you care about them and appreciate the sacrifices they are making in supporting your career choice.”