On March 27, after 27 years in the Missouri Army National Guard, 1st Sgt. Rodney McKinney laced up his combat boots for the last time.
McKinney, Maryville, joined the National Guard on Feb. 27, 1986, as a 17-year-old junior at South Nodaway High School in Barnard. He began his military career 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 when he started working full-time for the National Guard as a unit clerk at the 1-129th's headquarters 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. By 2002, he was ready for a change and became a recruiter.
McKinney said he believed in the Guard so much he wanted to represent it in a more public way. His passion for military service made it easy for him to convince others to wear their country's uniform.
"I'm not a salesman," McKinney said. "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."
Selected Rookie of the Year and Top Recruiter in Missouri in 2003, McKinney also garnered the Chief's 54 Award. In 2008 he was Top Noncommissioned Officer for Recruiting in both Missouri and a nine-state area, which earned him the Master Seven Award. Another distinction came three years ago, when he was named the state's top recruiting non-commissioned-officer-in-charge.
"Receiving those commendations is the reward for the work by many, not just by me, but everybody on my team," McKinney said. "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 success in the Guard and in life to his willingness to serve both God and country.
"You've got to do the work. You don't get there for nothing. But (God's) in charge," McKinney said. "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."
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 Guardsmen.
Page 2 of 2 - "This is the only job I've ever really known," he said. "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 retired as the 1st sergeant in charge of recruiting production for western Missouri. He and his wife, Lori, attend Calvary Chapel in Maryville.