Jenny’s service began as a way to help out the community
Steve Jenny initially joined the Army National Guard to help out locally in the case of an emergency or natural disaster.
The Columbus native figured with all the opportunities he’d been given growing up, he owed it to his friends and neighbors to be on the front line if Columbus, or the surrounding area, ever needed his service.
Nearly two decades later, he never imagined he’d still be putting on the uniform.
“My initial plan wasn’t to go overseas or anything like that, but of course, things change,” Jenny said, as he drove back from a weekend of guard duty in Grand Island. “(Serving this long) wasn’t ever really part of the plan. I just wanted to help out.”
Jenny has been doing that and a lot more since he first signed up in 1999 during his junior year at Dana College. The former Lakeview Viking was on a wrestling scholarship for another group of Vikings and decided it was time.
He had initial thoughts to join earlier but wanted to continue a successful wrestling career that included a Class C 106-pound state championship in 1995. He felt like he could help out even more with a college degree.
But in the summer of 1999, though he was never going to quit, he questioned his decision daily.
“It was tough, I knew I was going to make it through, but I was definitely not prepared for all the yelling,” Jenny joked. “I’ve done OK for myself in a lot of things, but when I got there they pretty much let me know I wasn’t that big of a deal.
“It was an eye-opener.”
After 10 weeks of basic training, Jenny was allowed to join active duty right away. As well as he had performed in basic and scored on tests, he was allowed to pick his career path and train in that path immediately.
With a transportation company housed in Columbus, the choice was easy. His experience on the farm driving truck made the decision even easier.
With an advanced skill set, Jenny was driving a truck as an active duty member for two weeks. When his time was up, college was ready to begin again.
After receiving a degree in biology and psychology with a minor in business, Jenny began the civilian part of his life as a farmer and eventual chemist for Cargill.
Little did he know, however, that his six-year contract with the National Guard included the potential to serve overseas.
After Sept. 11 and the ensuing military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, Jenny and his transportation company were soon called up to support the troops in the middle east.
He landed in Kuwait in 2004 and served for one day short of a year driving the truck into the war zone in Iraq.
Jenny was part of mile-long convoys of 40 to 60 trucks that traveled at night and faced such dangers as sniper fire, roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
He served alongside troops who were injured in battle and took fire to the back of his truck but never encountered any sort of explosion.
“It’s a scary deal. We traveled at night most of the time, so we really didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “You just had to rely on everybody else to make sure that you were safe.
Hearing an explosion meant waiting and listening for where the action was coming from. At that point, decisions are made about calling security, returning to base, finding out if a damaged vehicle needs to be transported back and many others.
“You just thank God it’s not your vehicle,” Jenny said.
“You just kind of go a little faster. You push the accelerator down and go fast. There isn’t a whole lot you can do. Your biggest asset is the speed of the truck and the convoy.”
Jenny’s first term with the National Guard was up when he was on deployment in Iraq. Although he was unsure how long he would stick with it once he joined, being in combat together with fellow troops who had grown to be friends as much as brothers in arms meant he was ready to sign up again.
He has signed on to remain in service three times since then and has two years left on his current contract.
The National Guard has taken him to other corners of the world, including Germany, the Czech Republic, and most recently, Canada this past spring.
Probably the most fun was in the Czech Republic when as a sergeant first class he was in charge of a group of cadets he took to Europe to train within an infantry unit in the Czech army.
They lived together out in the woods, drove Czech equipment and ate Czech food.
After 14 years of service, with many of the members of his first unit moving into other positions or ending their service, Jenny decided it was time for a change as well.
For two years now, he has been part of an aviation unit out of Grand Island. Jenny is in charge of a company that includes pilots, flight medics, crew chiefs and mechanics. His role is to ensure everyone is trained properly and up to date on all physical requirements.
The unit has four helicopters under its control used primarily for disaster relief. As the guy in charge though, Jenny stays back and keeps track of everyone while in action.
He’s also used his college degree to become a medic and has decided he’ll serve at least the required 20 years to earn a military pension. Moving to the medical part of the National Guard has allowed Jenny to advance quicker through the ranks and become part of something he truly loves.
However, he also truly loves selling houses for Re/Max in Columbus – something he’s been doing for the past five years.
(As a side note his tag line is ‘BELIEVE IN STEVE,’ and you can reach him at 402-276-2997.)
He has a brand new, 19-month-old baby at home and plans to marry in June.
Life is about perfect for Steve Jenny as Veterans Day approaches on Sunday. As always, he’ll meet up with his old buddies at Ag Park for a roast beef dinner, share a few laughs, trade a few stories, play cards and enjoy the time together.
Even if things weren’t quite perfect, if there’s one thing serving his country has taught Jenny, it’s that everything he fights for, even the little things, are worth the struggle.
“I really appreciate what we have here in America. I wish more people would, too,” he said. “If everyone could go (to Iraq) and see what they don’t have and how our lives could be, they would appreciate more of what we have here - food and showers and water, just the little things that a lot of people don’t have.
“For the troops, when you’re in a war situation, and you can’t always shower, you realize how great it is just to shower, how great it is to brush your teeth.”
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.