Soldier Tim Kenney: “You can’t keep a good dog down”

Tim Kenney dances with his daughter Emily during the father daughter dance at her wedding reception. Emily married Josh Kastendiek on December 29, 2012. Photo by Mahala Gaylord

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.

Tim Kenney’s adopted son Biniyam was the ring bearer for his older sister’s wedding, December 29, 2012. Emily Kenney, 19, walks with her father Tim before the ceremony at First Church of the Nazarene in Montrose CO. Photo by Mahala Gaylord

“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.

Tim Kenney gives as speech at the reception of his daughter Emily who married Josh Kastendiek on December 29, 2012. Photo by Mahala Gaylord

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.

Tim Kenney looks over at his new son-in-law Josh Kastendieck after the wedding ceremony held for his daughter Emily and Josh at First Church of the Nazarene in Montrose, CO, December 29, 2012. Photo by Mahala Gaylord

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, nlofholm@denverpost.com or twitter.com/nlofholm

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About Lee Ann Colacioppo

I am the Senior Editor/News at the Denver Post. I have been at The Post sincd 1999 in a variety of positions, including city editor and investigations editor. I previously worked at The Des Moines Register, Greenville, S.C., News and Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News. I'am a Denver native and graduate of Drake University in Des Moines. View all posts by Lee Ann Colacioppo →
  • John ebright

    I read your article in the Denver Post and to inform you of our Wounded Warriors Family Ski Week.
    We will be holding our 6th annual event in April for 12 families. Our program focuses on families and their communications. We partner with the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center for the skiing. If you would like more info , please email me.

    John

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.maddox.73 Brent Maddox

    sure ya can.. ill more than promise ya.. agood dog can be kept down

    • Bonnie

      …Get a life!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.maddox.73 Brent Maddox

    my grand pa was kept down… forever…. best my dad was kept down forever… my blue heeler is gone forever… u lived.. and said.. a good dog cant be be kept down forever. is all!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/brent.maddox.73 Brent Maddox

    for tellin truth. an not lying don’t make me the bad guy here here

  • Jack

    Tim, you have to find an outlet. You have to find something to care about more than yourself, to be more concerned with that thing or that person than yourself. If you don’t you will turn inward and implode. The drinking and the prescriptions will not help if you don’t find that something, someone, some cause to care about. It will help you, trust me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerry-Howe/100001160196027 Jerry Howe

    This is the personification of an early middle aged, typically white, suburban, male, with a conservative political orientation who is a gun and sports enthusiast. He probably gets most of news from the Fox News Network. His experience in the Army National Guard was an experience that broadened his personal self development and eventually his level of emotional intelligence down the road. There is “no gain without pain”

    This seems to be a path for many men of his makeup. While it is certainly not one that I chose, or would choose, it was what he was born into. It is a great commentary on his slice of the American male psyche today

    • caiusKeys

      Thanks for the psyche 101 drivel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mike.forgacs.9 Mike Forgacs

    Mr Kenney, I thank you for your service. I compliment you on your beautiful family, from Biniyam to Josh to Emily and all others. I thank you and Nancy L. for letting the story be known. You and your family remain in my thoughts and prayers – your name now over my workspace desk..