Soldier Tim Kenney: “You can’t keep a good dog down”
Montrose, Colo. — Duck hunting in the early weekend mornings: The rising sun casts a soft beauty over the Uncompahgre River. The exuberant puppy at Tim Kenney’s side feels like a new best buddy. The birds angle in through the dawn and Kenney can choose to shoot, or to simply enjoy watching them.
It’s a time he is at peace. It’s a time that reminds him of who he was before he went to war.
“All these little things that I took for granted — the small things I couldn’t enjoy before, I’m enjoying them now. I’m doing a lot better,” Kenney said two months after he hit the darkest of his post-war dark times, and began to see the light again.
Kenney, 46, said he still views his time in an Army National Guard infantry unit in Afghanistan as a scout and gunner as something he needed to do for his country. He is an unabashed patriot, from his love of the flag-waving sentiments of Toby Keith songs to his decision to put his life on the line and enlist.
He would do it all over again, even after the hell he’s gone through since he came back from Afghanistan wounded and since Post Traumatic Stress Disorder set in with increasingly damaging effects.
“The price is more real to me now. I’ve seen what it’s like when you don’t have hope and you don’t have freedom,” Kenney said. “I think I have a lot more understanding about what is called ‘freedom’ in America. I understand more now than most Americans understand.”
Kenney was an idealistic 42-year-old husband and father of four, a businessman and an uber outdoorsman when he enlisted. He was the oldest soldier in his company at Fort Benning. He had been a fishing, hunting and rafting guide. He had been a contract trapper. He had children who believed he could do anything. He was a tough man who was not a stranger to brawling.
He thought his age, his outlook and his life experiences would make it easier for him to deal with the stresses of war.
He was wrong.
“You can’t know when you go to war what you will have to deal with,” he said.
He started a business, Toads Guide Shop, after he returned to his family to recuperate under a program called Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit. It has been a blessing in that it allowed him to be at home rather than on a far-off base. But he is still technically an active-duty soldier, meaning he must still follow military rules while trying to navigate his way back to some semblance of normal civilian life.
Over the past two years, his life has been a journey through the Veteran’s Administration maze of care. He has gone from doctor’s office to doctor’s office for the back and shoulder pain he still suffers following surgery for injuries he sustained when his armored vehicle was hit by roadside explosives.
He has spent many hours in a dentist’s chair for repair of broken teeth. He has spent more time with counselors and psychiatrists who are treating his PTSD, depression and struggle to reconnect with his family.
In spite of that help, he has fallen into despair at times. In December he started drinking after 18 years of sobriety. He temporarily moved into the bunkhouse at his family’s ranch south of Montrose. But he pulled it back together.
Four days after Christmas, he was able to walk his 18-year-old daughter down the aisle with the solemn pride of any good father.
He cried “like a baby” during the ceremony as he sat between his wife and his mother. In his outspoken fashion, he called out, “you better,” after the groom promised to take care of his daughter. He had a touching father/daughter dance at the reception.
“I was in a positive place that day,” he said.
He knows more bad days are in store. His counselors have warned him about that. PTSD doesn’t simply dissolve or soften after a proscribed time. There is no roadmap for it like there is for grief. Veterans have told him to expect his wounded psyche to continue to give him trouble for some time to come.
“I see some dark times ahead, but I’m on my way out. I know that at some point life gets better,” said Kenney, who makes it a point to count his blessings every morning when he wakes up. Those blessings include, “My God loves me. My family loves me. My church loves me.”
And he repeats what has become his mantra.
“You can’t keep a good dog down.”
Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/nlofholm