Thursday morning February 14, 2019 in Tempe, Arizona, Matthew Kenney found himself in a pink tie surrounded by a group of preschoolers screaming in delight at the fact their parents were with them to share in the annual Valentine’s Day Sweetheart Breakfast. A four-year old and eight-year old in the excited group of children are sisters belonging to Kenney who was bringing tears to his youngest daughter’s eyes as he removed the tie because it meant dad had to say goodbye and head to work.
A much different Valentine’s Day season than the one Army Infantry Officer Kenney was in 10 years ago in a command post in a junkyard of Mosul, Iraq; where as he put it, “during the day we were to be winning the hearts and minds of the people,” and at night going head-to-head with Al-Qaeda In what Kenney called that group’s “last stand”.
Candidates.vote Clark H. Caras recently had the opportunity of spending time with Kenney who upon returning home to Arizona completed his Doctor of Law (JD), at Arizona State University; worked as AZ Director of Concerned Veterans for America; Executive Director of the Arizona Republican Party; and at the present time is 1stConsultant at AZ Grassroots Advocates. Here is that interview:
Candidates.vote — We talked on Valentine’s Day this year (2019) and you mentioned the taking off of the pink tie was a signal to one of the children in the group that did not go over very well?
Kenney – Yes, it was my four-year old daughter and she knew it meant dad had to leave and go to work. She wasn’t very pleased about it and cried for a bit before I left the school.
Candidates.vote – You mentioned your day with family was going to end there and it was quite different than the same period of time ten years ago for you?
Kenney – Yes. My wife a while back had mentioned wanting to go to the ballet and I was lucky enough to get tickets. So we went to dinner and to see Firebird and La Sylphide. We had a great evening and I enjoyed the two ballets we went to; but I really enjoyed the evening because my wife is amazing! (The writer followed up with Kenney on February 15thto make sure he had enjoyed the ballet.)
Candidates.vote – I’m guessing the anniversary of the event that happened 10 years ago so close to Valentine’s Day made a school breakfast and an evening with your wife mean even more?
Kenney – February 9th , ten years ago was the day of an anniversary I really don’t like to remember; but this year I guess being the 10thanniversary someone made a scrapbook that included everyone from our Battalion in it and was sent to all of us.
I told myself I wasn’t going to look at it, but this morning (Valentine’s Day) I did. See, on February 9thwe lost four US soldiers including my Battalion commander and his Kurdish interpreter – so that was five. We always considered our interpreters as part of the unit. We lost 11 soldiers total in that deployment, not all from our platoon but they were all in our battalion.
Candidates.vote – I’m finding it interesting you talk about how much you “loved” that junkyard your platoon would operate from. Others might find a comment like that a bit hard to believe?
Kenney – The different platoons were based out of the areas where the most attacks were coming from – ours was that junkyard, which was great because once we would get done running all of our counter insurgency we’d play flag football because that meant another platoon had come into the area close enough to us for a game.
And we had the perfect location because of the amount of room with the junkyard. And not only did we enjoy playing as much football as we could get in, we really loved it when it was raining!
Candidates.vote – Can I get you to repeat that last thing you said? I’m not so sure I heard you right… raining?
Kenney – You heard right; yes, raining! We loved it because of the sloshing around and the falling down and the laughing and just having a good time!
Candidates.vote – You had quite a career going in the Army but here you are in Arizona helping to fight the political battles needing to be fought and identify with the Republican Party?
Kenney – I loved my job and was looking at Special Forces training. And then six days before it was to begin I tore my ACL again and realized I was wearing my knees out. My wife and I prayed about it and made the decision to go all out for a family in our lives. That left me with six weeks to get back here and study for the LSAT to get into ASU.
Candidates.vote – That is a battle you obviously won?
Kenney – Like I said. I loved my job and what we were doing there in helping the people, and I loved the Army but those knees put a stop to Special Forces. Coming home to Arizona put us where my mother had brought us, to Tucson, after my parent’s divorce. And this was my wife’s home and she had family all around us.
Being able to do things like I did this morning, being with my daughters, is good motivation in wanting to succeed in order to be a good father and husband.
Candidates.vote – Something we like to ask in these interviews is what book, or books, are you reading right now. I’m interested in whether or not you were able to read anything in Mosul?
Kenney – No. No books in Mosul, especially with having such a weird schedule. Winning the hearts and minds of the people during the day and then working at night to make sure the people could make things happen for themselves.
I loved my Iraqi partners. (In an almost “remembering” tone of voice…) They lost so many more soldiers than us. So no, no books in Mosul. It was a place where everything in the world seemed to come together so there was quite the black market, so we had a lot of TV and movies. I do have some books I’ve read that I’d put as favorites though.
“Freedom is His Flight Plan,” by Stephen Shadegg is one of those. It’s an amazing story of the life of Barry Goldwater and how he became all that he became.
Candidates.vote – What about hero’s that you might have looked to in shaping Matthew Kenney?
Kenney – The answer to that one includes a couple of the books that are my favorites. As a 12-year old boy growing up in Arizona it was pretty incredible to realize we had a hero right here in our state with John McCain. Senator McCain is definitely one who was a hero to me and was long before I worked for his Super PAC.
He was a hero to us in Iraq because of the National Defense Authorization Act he’d championed so the military were able to get what we needed to accomplish what we were sent to do. In the field it had a nickname… something like rapid, ripping, resources. It was kind of like having petty cash in the acquisition process and Senator McCain did this for us.
It gave us everything we could have wanted and needed and we didn’t have to wait forever. Sensors on our equipment. Armor for the vehicles being driven. Thanks to Senator McCain and that being included in the budget a lot of lives were saved.
Candidates.vote – You mentioned books involving Senator McCain you have as favorites?
Kenney — “The Nightingale’s Song”, is a favorite of mine. (By Robert Timberg, the book follows 5 graduates of the United States Naval Academy, one of those being John McCain.) Senator McCain is a hero anywhere you go in the world – he’s someone from our country they seem to know the story of. His book, “The Restless Wave”, is a favorite. (Authored by Senator John McCain and Mark Salter.)
Candidates.vote – Your work in the Republican Party takes you, and has taken you, to the organizing among the grassroots elements and members of the party. To some who might take a look at the climate of politics today what do you tell them?
Kenney – There certainly is a wildness going on right now but in sticking to the principles of the GOP and looking to the good things and good people we have here locally and in the state. That’s what I do. What we have going on here with Governor Ducey and the recruitment of businesses like Intel and what is going on in the East Valley. Those are things that politically are incredible.
And two good Republican city councilmembers like Sal (DiCiccio) and Jim (Waring), along with the guys we have on our County Board. With these people there; being involved locally you have direct input about your lives and won’t get a grim view of politics with that. The messing war social media is playing out will go on, but what is real is to step outside and watch an incredible Arizona sunset – that’s the real world.
Candidates.vote – One last question. An easy one… you a hamburger or a cheeseburger guy?
Kenney – Easy. Cheeseburger from Delux on Camelback.