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Veterans Advocate J.D. Kennedy Named A Santa Clarita Unsung Hero

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J.D. KennedyBy Stephen K. Peeples

J.D. Kennedy is one of the lucky ones. As a Marine, he served three tours of duty driving resupply convoys in Iraq, and returned home safely each time.

Now, as a civilian, he devotes his time and energy to helping fellow veterans who may not have been so lucky, assisting them in finding work, housing, and education, and in cutting through red tape to get the benefits they were promised in exchange for serving their country.

This is why Kennedy is our latest Santa Clarita Unsung Hero, presented by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.

Kennedy knows about red tape from personal experience. When he returned from his third hitch in Iraq in 2007, there was a hang-up with the Marine Corps about getting the final cash he was due. He needed it to pay for college at COC and to help purchase a condo in Newhall.

After four months of runaround from his Marine superiors, Kennedy finally went to the Santa Clarita Valley office of his local Congressman, Buck McKeon — who, coincidentally, is also chairman of the powerful House Armed Services Committee — to try to get some action.

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Kennedy (the J.D. stands for John David) found a receptive ear in Margie Clark, a constituent rep in McKeon’s office, and had the money in his account the next day.

A few months later, almost by accident, Kennedy landed a fellowship for an internship with the House of Representatives' Wounded Warrior program. After Kennedy graduated from the internship in March 2012, McKeon offered him a full-time position in the Congressman's SCV office, as his District Representative focusing on veterans’ affairs.

“I’m in a unique position, I think, to be able to serve for the Armed Services Committee as (McKeon) is pushing to make some good changes and upgrades to the VA system,” Kennedy told AM 1220 KHTS's Jason Endicott during an on-air interview on Monday, Feb. 11.

“We see a lot of vets coming into our offices (who have) just been struggling with the system as a whole for different things, the disability claims, education, getting housing benefits, job placement, and the system altogether just hasn't been efficient, I don't think, ever,” Kennedy said. “The Congressman's making some good moves to address those, and I'm happy to be there by his side to let him know what's going on.”

“Whether it be helping a wounded warrior navigate the (Veterans Administration) or helping a new vet apply for school under the GI Bill, J.D. is passionate about taking care of our veterans every step of the way,” McKeon said in an email. “J.D. is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to his love and sense of duty for our vets, and his work is constantly a shining example of what it means to take care of those who have taken care of us.”

Often when one asks a young man or woman why they volunteered for military service, they usually respond by saying it runs in the family, or they believed in a certain cause, or maybe they saw it as an avenue to an education.

Not so with Kennedy.

“I simply wanted to get out of town,” said the native of a small town called West Point, Indiana, near Lafayette and Purdue University (and not connected with the West Point military academy in New York).

Kennedy had graduated from West Point’s McCutcheon High School in 2001 but didn’t want to go to college at the time. “I was working at a grocery store and had an opportunity to be either a shift manager at the front of the store or find something else and go somewhere else, and I didn't feel like staying around town,” he said. “So, I had a friend from the football team that had signed up, and asked me — as a recruiter, he gets an extra rank for getting me to sign up — and I get to leave town, so it worked out pretty well.”

Kennedy was a month away from leaving for boot camp when the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City were destroyed on Sept. 11, 2001.

“I knew in boot camp that I was going to be doing something, and sure enough, the winter of the next year, they were asking for volunteers to ship off,” he said. “I raised my hand and took off. I helped set up prior to the invasion of Iraq and Kuwait. And when we declared war, (and Marines) went over the berm the next day. I stayed back and helped load up the ships before coming back home. Then the Army took over after we had accomplished our mission.

“A few months later,” Kennedy said, “they were asking the Marine Corps to come back and split up Iraq. They split it down the middle. The Marine Corps took the western half and the Army maintained the east, and I was back for another (tour). I think that tour was about seven months.”

Considering the danger of his assignments, which involved driving convoys of ammunition, food and other supplies through often hotly contested territory, it’s remarkable Kennedy and his crews returned without physical injury — with a single exception.

“First deployment, we were lucky we didn't have to deal with any attacks,” he said. “The second time around, we were more in the city, whereas the first time we were in the outskirts, just driving through the desert, doing resupply missions. Second time, we were in Ramadi and Baghdad and Fallujah doing the same resupply missions. Those convoys tended to get attacked about two out of every three times. Each platoon did about three to four convoys a week, so it was a couple times a week we would get ambushed. We were lucky, though, we didn't lose anybody. We lost some trucks, one guy got his left eye blinded by an RPG that hit his truck, but we came back with everybody we left with.”

A few years later, in 2007, Kennedy was recalled for a third tour of duty. “Same assignment. I was a truck driver and we did resupply convoys,” he said. “But that last trip over, we were starting to get out of the cities and move more toward the borders and run security on the interstates and giving it all over to the Iraqi security. They were on their own (for) law enforcement and what-not throughout Ramadi and Fallujah. So, it was more of a turnover-style (mission) rather than continuing to run ammo and food.”

Since returning home and following a career path that led him to his current post as Buck McKeon’s rep for the 25th Congressional District, Kennedy has aided dozens of area veterans in myriad ways, as both outlined earlier in this story.

In addition to his district duties, Kennedy is the elected Commander of the American Legion Post in Newhall, another avenue for his service on behalf of those who have served us.

“It's been just about a year coming up here in a few months,” he said. “As commander, you have the responsibility for really overseeing the whole operation as a veteran service organization chartered by Congress to assist veterans with filing disability claims. We've got a full-time veteran service officer that goes over and does outreach at all the different VA-funded programs for hiring veterans. There's several of them, actually.

“McKeon is about to hire a veteran,” Kennedy said. “He's in a (VA) program called the Non-Paid Work Experience. It is a paid position, but what's nice about that is it doesn't have to come out of the budget for the office that's doing the hiring and employing. The VA pays that salary.”

Kennedy mentioned other programs for veterans that might be of interest to local business owners. “Like the VA On-the-Job Training program, and that's available for any private business that wants to hire a vet. It pays 50 percent of the salary that that business decides the veteran should make for the first 12 months. So the VA covers 50 percent and the employer covers the other 50 percent. We come in and give a little 30-45 minute lesson on how to do outreach to vets and how to access those funds.”

Kennedy also serves as a hands-on member of the advisory committee for the SCV Habitat for Heroes housing project, which will build more than 80 homes for veterans off Centre Pointe Parkway near Bowman High School and Hart District headquarters.

The nonprofit SCV Habitat for Heroes organization, spearheaded by Carl and Jeri Goldman of AM 1220 KHTS and Mike Mizrahi of Southern California Gas Company, is affiliated with the San Fernando Valley/Santa Clarita Valley chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Groundbreaking for the “Veterans Village” homes — the first project of its kind in the nation — is slated for the spring.

“As far as how I feel about it, how Buck feels about it, (SCV Habitat for Heroes) is a great program, a great project,” Kennedy said. “We're looking forward to the groundbreaking. Once, I believe, it's in front of the (Santa Clarita) Planning Commission and the City Council, I don't believe it's going to see any problems at either of those.

“Our involvement with (SCV Habitat for Heroes) started off as just serving on the advisory,” he said. “And then it turned into more of a referral from Congressman McKeon's office. A lot of the vets that come into our office looking for assistance on multiple different levels, we end up sending over to Carl and Jeri, and they end up getting the services for Habitat for Humanity coming in and renovating their homes or doing just simple repairs. We've got one (woman) up in Canyon Country getting a new furnace. She was going several months without any heat. We found out about it and were able to help her out.”

“J.D. is a jewel,” Seratti-Goldman said. “His work with our veterans with SCV Habitat for Heroes has gone way beyond the call of duty. We are blessed to have him on our community.”

SCV Habitat for Heroes volunteers rehabbed the Newhall American Legion post as one of their projects on behalf of local veterans last year, and the grateful Legionaires reciprocated.

“They came in and offered to renovate our hall, so (the Legion) turned around and started raising money for the program,” Kennedy said. “Last year we raised a little over $15,000 through several different events, along with one really large donation from an anonymous donor.”

Kennedy said he’s looking forward to the annual SCV Habitat for Heroes Builders Ball awards ceremony and fundraiser in March, at which the Goldmans will be the honorees in recognition of their efforts to rally local businesses and individuals to improve the housing landscape for veterans in our community.

“I wrote a letter of support and will be there honoring Carl and Jeri, along with the Gas Company,” Kennedy said. “It's their big event of the year – they raise a lot of money to support everything they do, (SFV/SCV) Habitat for Humanity and SCV Habitat for Heroes altogether.”

What really makes J.D. Kennedy an Unsung Hero is that he does all this without expecting any reward, or even recognition like this.

When Endicott asked him what he got from all his advocacy on behalf of veterans, Kennedy paused. “Well…I haven’t thought about that.”

“That says a lot about you,” Endicott said. “But if you want to try to answer, I really encourage you to do so.”

“Well, I do get a paycheck, it takes care of me pretty good,” Kennedy said. “But you know what? I enjoy doing it.”

Watch J.D. Kennedy’s complete interview with AM-1220 KHTS afternoon drive air personality Jason Endicott on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 (link to come), and learn more about this Santa Clarita Unsung Hero’s good deeds. You can also download the audio podcast.

Read more of KHTS's Santa Clarita Unsung Heroes features brought to you by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.

Mercedes-Benz of Valencia is proud to be part of the Santa Clarita Valley, not only giving you the superior customer service you deserve, but also giving back to our community by supporting our schools, sports teams, Sheriff's Station and nonprofit organizations. Now, Mercedes-Benz of Valencia and KHTS have teamed up to present "Santa Clarita's Unsung Heroes," spotlighting local residents who make a difference in our valley. With new contributions also comes a new Mercedes management team. Visit Mercedes-Benz of Valencia today.

Article: Veterans Advocate J.D. Kennedy Named A Santa Clarita Unsung Hero
Article Source: Mercedes-Benz of Valencia -- Santa Clarita Unsung Hero
Author: Stephen K. Peeples