Lt. Col. Jeffrey Keenan did not officially start his position as professor of military science until July, but he made it a point to be at Augusta University for the United States Army’s National Commissioning Ceremony on June 12.
“As I stood there, I realized it’s truly a beginning,” said Keenan, who was recently promoted from major to lieutenant colonel on Aug. 1. “I wanted to get a chance to see those young men and women, as they begin their journey as an Army officer. And although they weren’t mine as cadets, they are now mine as officers because now they’re part of the fraternity … they’re part of our Army, so we are all one in the same now. So that opportunity to be there as an informal ‘welcome to the officer corps’ was important to me.
“It really helped get my mind around the unique opportunity I have here — that I get to really start with a very malleable, raw product and be able to mold and shape and refine and turn that into a finished product that also becomes a leader in our Army.”
Keenan replaces Lt. Col. Danielle Rodondi, who led the AU ROTC program for three years. Rodondi, who has a Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in nursing from Florida Southern College, was reassigned to Fort Rucker, Alabama, effective May 29, to serve as commander of the Lyster Army Health Clinic.
Keenan comes to Augusta University after a two-year assignment with the Joint Staff in the Pentagon. He served as a J6 Cyber Division action officer and executive assistant to the deputy director for information warfare.
“I did a host of different things, whether it’s engagement with our combatant commands around the world to National Security Council engagements over in the White House compound doing policy-level things in support of the lower committees,” said Keenan, 39. “In the past year, I served as an aide to Navy Rear Adm. Bill Chase and helping him execute his duties within the J6 as the deputy director. I really enjoyed a unique experience, working at the ground floor of the Joint Staff as an action officer. Then I got to see things at the most executive senior level, interacting with senior executive leaders of our services, our secretary defense, his office, as well as within the other departments.”
Keenan was born in Olney, Maryland, and raised in Wadsworth, Ohio. Both of his grandfathers served in World War II and he was especially close to his father’s father, a POW who remained active with the veterans in his community until his passing. Keenan said there still remains a strong aura of service to the nation in his family.
He was trying to decide what to do in college and “when you’re 18, you just don’t know.” After one year at the University of Cincinnati, Keenan realized he needed a little bit more purpose and started gravitating back toward the service.
“That’s when I made the decision to embark upon the path of an Army ROTC scholarship and earned a four-year scholarship and that really kind of changed my stars and put me on a completely different trajectory than I could have foreseen for myself,” he said.
He was a Distinguished Military Graduate in 2004 and was commissioned as a signal officer. His first assignment was to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He served as the battalion signal officer and a platoon leader in the 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005.
After redeployment, Keenan moved to the 101st Sustainment Brigade, where he served as a company executive officer and operations officer for the 101st Brigade Troops Battalion. Keenan has also been stationed in Landstuhl, Germany; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and at Fort Gordon.
Keenan was 21 and in airborne school when 9/11 happened. He said that day forever changed his life trajectory. Weeks after graduation, his friends were in the mountains of Afghanistan facing the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. He would eventually deploy three times and go places “that I, in my wildest dreams, I never thought I would experience when I came into the ROTC program.”
He believes his experiences at each of those stops helped groomed him for his position at AU.
“I can’t really put my finger on sequential things that have built me, but I think it’s a cumulative effect of experiences,” he said. “The Army is truly an organization where the merits of your hard work will dictate your upper mobility.
“I think the value of getting small victories early in your career to build your confidence has stuck with me, as I know that for the opportunities to grow and develop new leaders, you need to create a positive environment where they have an opportunity to test out their skills and ability and try new things and be successful and ultimately have opportunities to fail, because it’s with failure we learn the most.
“The thing about leadership is it constantly evolves as the people you’re leading and the organizations you’re in change. I think my progression has really reinforced that need for me to be flexible, to adapt to change and ultimately grow myself, and those that I work with in that environment to achieve the objectives or the goals we’re trying to reach.”
When the opportunity arose to come back to the area, Keenan and his family jumped at the chance.
“Rarely does the Army give you a chance to go back to a place that’s comfortable to you … and we consider this place our Army home,” he said. “We love the people and we love the community. Augusta University is an ascending university with a vision from a president and leadership that wants to take this school to places far and beyond. There’s a very supportive community here.”
Keenan’s arrival is not the only change happening within the ROTC program. Master Sgt. Travis Logan retired July 14 and Capt. Peter Ahching is in training, preparing to transition into a new role elsewhere. Taking their places here will be Master Sgt. Kevin File, who will serve as a senior military instructor, and Capt. Will Myers, who will be an assistant professor in military science.
Keenan is ready for the challenge ahead but also notes that all of his experiences are for naught if he can’t provide value to the students.
“Having a few things hanging off my wall to look cool and having a few badges on my uniform really doesn’t matter … providing value and fulfilling a need is my focus,” Keenan said. “If I’m able to successfully translate that 15 years of experience from the 101st Airborne Division all the way up to the hallway of the chairman the Joint Chiefs, if I can translate that into something substantive to them that they can take hold and process for themselves and then use, that’s really what I want to focus on.
“In the classroom, at our local high schools during recruitment and growing the program, that’s where all that stuff really has to translate for me and that’s my charge. Success in previous assignments do not translate to predisposed success in the next. I am excited to roll up my sleeves and get to work.”