MARYVILLE, Mo. – He’s proud to call himself a Christian soldier. Now after 27 years in the Missouri Army National Guard, 1st Sgt. Rodney McKinney has laced up his combat boots for the last time on March 27.
McKinney, of Maryville, joined the National Guard on Feb. 27, 1986, at the age of 17 while he was a junior at South Nodaway High School in Barnard. He started his service with the 1-129th Field Artillery as a fire direction specialist.
“Essentially I got in on a whim,” admits McKinney. “I joined because my friend did and I thought it was exciting.”
What started out as an impulse evolved into a career spanning nearly three decades. In 1990 McKinney made an even greater commitment and started working full-time for the National Guard as a unit clerk in Maryville.
“From the day I got the job, that was the day I made up my mind that it’s a career now, it’s not just a part-time job,” said McKinney. “Here I am years later.”
McKinney worked his way up in the battalion eventually becoming a trainer and a readiness noncommissioned officer. In 2002 McKinney was ready for a change and became a recruiter in northwest Missouri.
McKinney said he believed in the Guard so much he wanted to represent it in a more public way. His passion for the Guard made it easy for him to relay it to others.
“I’m not a salesman,” said McKinney. “If you believe in something strongly enough you can tell people about what it’s done for you without selling it. Because of that I was successful.”
That success includes being Rookie of the Year and Top Recruiter in Missouri in 2003, garnering him the Chief’s 54 Award. In 2008 he was Top Noncommissioned Officer for Recruiting in both Missouri and a nine state area earning him the Master Seven Award. Again in 2010 he was the top recruiting NCOIC for Missouri.
“Receiving those commendations is the reward for the work by many, not just by me, but everybody on my team,” said McKinney. “It’s not the award itself that’s the glory button, but it’s the fact that all the hard work that went into achieving the award was recognized and I was able to bring those people together to be that effective.”
McKinney attributes his progression to the Lord and his willingness to serve Him, as well as his country.
“You’ve got to do the work, you don’t get there for nothing, but He’s in charge,” said McKinney. “It’s definitely a part of me, to not interject that someplace would not be who I am. My beliefs, especially as a recruiter, have definitely been represented by how I recruit.”
According to McKinney his actions as a recruiter have always been guided by his faith.
“I don’t leave that at the door when I leave the house,” said McKinney. “Who I am is a Christian recruiter. My faith has set the guidelines for who I am for the rest of me. I’m a dirty rotten sinner just like everybody else. I don’t want to come off like I’m different than anybody else.”
Throughout McKinney’s career his style was simple, live by the Golden Rule. He attributes much of his success to that philosophy.
“I think you should treat people the way they should be treated,” said McKinney. “You treat them like you want to be treated.”
As McKinney closes out this chapter he is astounded to think of the numerous soldiers’ lives he’s touched in his 11 years of recruiting alone. Through his own enlistments, and the enlistments of the recruiters he’s supervised, McKinney has played a part in the recruitment of an estimated 2,448 Citizen-soldiers. To that he hopes the legacy he leaves behind is positive.
“I hope it was clear that I put the needs of soldiers above my own, that I’ve shown people there is a soldier care factor, that I’ve always upheld that and was fair,” said McKinney.
As many will attest, serving in the military is not just a job, but a way of life. So, after putting on the uniform for 27 years, and nearly daily for the past 23 years, McKinney admits he took pause as he put it on for the very last time.
“This is the only job I’ve ever really known,” said McKinney. “In a sense, the military has made me who I am. I don’t want to say fully because the Lord has made me who I am, but to a large extent who I’ve grown up being is because of the Guard.”
McKinney is beginning to adjust to his departure. In the last three months he said he has found that everybody in the military faces a little anxiety as they break away from what has been a huge part of their lives.
“I’m not going to miss the work, but I’m already missing the people,” said McKinney. “I can see that I’m going to miss the camaraderie. The relationships, that’s going to be a bigger hurdle. My whole network of friends is here and my church.”
Ultimately what McKinney wants to be remembered for during his service is his walk with the Lord.
“I hope when I walk away from here I’m known as a Christian soldier,” said McKinney. “Not a recruiter that goes to church. I hope I’ve been an example of that and have been an example others want to emulate.”
McKinney retires as the first sergeant in charge of the recruiting production for the west side of Missouri for the Missouri Army National Guard’s Recruiting and Retention Battalion. He is supported by his wife, Lori, and son, Tanner. He is a member of Calvary Chapel in Maryville.