From Adolescents to Soldiers, Guardsman ready for deployment
By Capt. Andi Hahn, 149th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade Public Affairs Officer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – When Kentucky National Guard Capt. John Rock leads his Soldiers into Iraq in support of Operation New Dawn, the 617th Military Police Company commander will lead with the same high standards and discipline he leads with every day through the halls of Thomas Jefferson Middle School.
Leading a company of Soldiers is different than leading a thousand adolescents – Rock knows that. But the standards he sets as assistant principal and commander are the same: 100 percent accountability, accomplish the mission and keep morale high.
“Rock is the strongest member of our team,” said Danny Kanipe, Rock’s colleague. “He is strict yet extremely fair to students and has tremendous responsibility for our safety and general behavior of our students.”
Rock, a former history teacher and basketball coach, received orders numerous times during his seven-year career at TJMS for annual trainings or schooling. This is the first time in his nine-year military career he will deploy into a combat zone.
“The only good thing that made this palpable,” said Kanipe, “is that I know how much he believes in his mission and what he’s doing for the Guard.”
Kanipe said he was shocked and saddened when he learned of Rock’s orders to deploy. Knowing the students would likely react the same way, Rock said he has kept his impending mobilization somewhat of a secret.
“I didn’t tell the kids because I’m the heavy hand around here,” Rock said. “In a way, I want them to always think I could be back the next minute or the next day.”
But with the 617th headquartered in Louisville, some of his students are already well aware that Rock will deploy – with their family members.
“Some of the kids have relatives deploying with the brigade and have asked questions,” Rock said. “But for the most part, I’m trying to slip out the door quietly.”
In order to exit with little attention or fanfare, Rock said he has prepared the staff at TJMS to run the school efficiently with a minimal impact to the students, the same way a Soldier teaches subordinates to carry on in the absence of leadership.
“I haven’t trained my staff right if I step out the door and things don’t continue to move forward,” he said. “I tell them ‘you know everything to do and you know how to do it.’
“I’m not nervous about being away from my job,” Rock said. “The staff at TJMS share and live a lot of the same values that the Army does. They are dedicated to their mission and making sacrifices to instill integrity and enhance education in the lives of the children.”
His dedication to education and the mentorship of his TJMS students will continue while he’s deployed. Rock said he’ll continue to get progress reports on one student in particular who comes from a rough home and has shown interest in the military.
“I told him each time he makes the honor roll, I will send him a letter from Iraq,” Rock said.
“The next report card came out he was on the honor roll,” he said. “I told him ‘great job,’ and he said ‘I get a letter from Iraq right?’ and I said ‘absolutely.’”