Searching for a future, finding a career
From inside a tank or during slow and careful walks through a potentially hostile village, a Molalla man has experienced some interesting things during his 30 years in the military.
For Molalla’s John McClenny, those three decades in the U.S. Army offered a lifetime of experiences he still draws upon.
McClenny admits the thought of getting some money for college was one of the motivating factors for him enlisting in the U.S. Army right out of Clatskanie High School in 1986. From there, the adventure began.
“I thought I could get some college money, and it would give me time to kind of figure out where I wanted to go with my life,” McClenny explained. “Serving the country was something I was brought up with. My dad served in Vietnam, and it was kind of expected that we would serve.”
McClenny, who retired in 2016 as a master sergeant, rode tanks until 1991 and admits it was a cramped affair, with the main gun taking up much of the turret space. The four-person crew was dispersed into cramped corners of the tank.
“I loved the tanks,” McClenny said. “I loved working on them and all the stuff we did with them. It was great, but it does take a toll on the body, and that’s what got me off them.”
After the first Gulf War, McClenny said he decided to stay in the Army but went into logistics, which often had him on the ground in Iraq. He would serve two tours in Iraq – from 2005-2006 and 2009-2010.
“That first tour was just kind of directing the Iraqi Army, showing them how to enter buildings, clear buildings and engage,” McClenny explained. “My second time there, they (Iraqi Army) were the ones who were supposed to be doing everything. You were just supposed to act like you trusted them, even if they didn’t clear a building right. You could go back in and find an ammunition stash or stored mines, but you were expected to compliment them and give them positive feedback.
“The phrase ‘Iraqi good enough’ was commonly used,” he added.
But while trying to support the Iraqi Army proved challenging at times, McClenny noted there was a positive turn – the Iraqi people themselves.
“The only part I liked about my second time was that I got to be with the Iraqi people, and that was a unique outlook,” he said. “The common person in Iraq is really a good person, not someone who supports the terrorists. But if they don’t make a show of it (supporting ISIS), ISIS would find them and make an example of them. So, they had to act like they support ISIS when they really don’t.”
Once McClenny cleared the 30-year barrier, and the war was technically over, he said he felt he’d done his service and “felt like it was time to bow out and go home.”
He said that resorting to a strictly civilian life has been a hard road. He misses the camaraderie and the trust built up within his unit and the men and women he worked with.
Finding that same thing in civilian life has been challenging, noting, “We were so much closer on the military side because we had each other’s back. If something comes, we are in it together. On the civilian side, you’re left on your own to deal with it.”
Fortunately, dialing into civilian life meant coming home to Molalla, the small town he and his wife have lived in since 1995. It’s where he and his wife Sherry raised their three children and where McClenny found a place to belong via his faith.
“I would say my faith was a major part of my Army career,” he noted. “The military loves to kind of set a certain moral aspect to what we do, but I’ve discovered without faith to go with it, it doesn’t hold up over time. Faith allows you to hold to your moral standards.”
And to that end, McClenny stays busy with programs and projects at Molalla Nazarene Church, “helping any way I can.”
And with his military career in the rearview mirror, he can look back on it with pride and an experience many won’t grasp.
“In my military career, there were surprises. It’s amazing how much politics affect the job. But overall, I loved it. It felt like it had meaning.”