MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE ALBANY, Ga. -- The Marine Corps said good-bye to one of its top enlisted Marines Friday, as a 30- year veteran and Albany Marine retired.
Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Waltz, base sergeant major, will no longer walk the halls of Coffman Hall, talking with Marines and sharing his experience and knowledge whenever needed. Under this seasoned grunt's tanned and weathered skin is a caring man with a love for the Corps that will never fade.
"I'm going to miss the Marine Corps, but it's time to move on," Waltz said.
The Williamsport, Pa., native enlisted in the Marine Corps Aug. 3, 1973, and attended recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. He joined the Corps with two childhood friends, but they got out after four years and he stayed in for the long haul.
Waltz still recalls the advice his father gave him more than 20 years ago, "If you find something you like to do, stay with it" and that is just what he did. Staying in the Marine Corps for 30 years is not common, but he simply loves the Corps and working with Marines.
Although Waltz is moving on, the Marine Corps is not really losing him, said Col. Joseph R. Wingard, base commanding officer. Waltz will continue serving the Corps by becoming a high school Junior ROTC instructor in Smith Station, Ala., which is a most suitable job for this experienced leader.
"He can teach and get things done," Wingard said. "His command voice is probably the best I've ever heard. He barks and people move."
Waltz admits the transition into the civilian work force will be a little tough, but he looks forward to the opportunity to help make young adults better citizens and instill discipline in them. This is something Waltz is familiar with, having served two years as a drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., where he was in charge of training recruits.
But as Waltz leaves the active ranks of the Corps, he admits that the Corps will never leave him.
"That eagle, globe and anchor is tattooed here [on my heart], it might not be in color and you might not be able to see it, but it's not going any where," Waltz said.
The ribbons on Waltz's uniform may indicate his career was a paved road to success, but at times it got bumpy. While serving at an American Embassy in Israel in 1983, Waltz's temper and his fists got him into a little trouble while celebrating at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.
"I work hard and play hard," Waltz said, and that night he just played a little too hard. He punched an American diplomat, but according to Waltz, the diplomat deserved it.
For that incident Waltz was court-martialed and busted down to staff sergeant, and told by his superiors that was the highest rank he would attain. But the hard-charging Marine did what any good Marine would do and continued to work and train hard.
After talking with his special assignments monitor, he was told drill instructors were needed and found himself on the way to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Due to his incident in Israel he was screened by a physiatrist numerous times before he was approved for duty as a drill instructor.
Waltz's wish of becoming a drill instructor finally came true and he spent many long hours training recruits. Waltz's love for training Marines took over and the duty of drill instructor was no longer a job, but an enjoyment. His natural leadership abilities shone through and it was evident he had found his calling. He was recognized as an outstanding drill instructor amongst his peers at MCRD San Diego and due to his hard work was once again meritoriously promoted to gunnery sergeant.
"Being a drill instructor was the most satisfying duty I've ever had," Waltz said. "Just watching the drastic change the recruits go through and knowing you made them the Marines they are is rewarding."
The only disappointment Waltz has seen in his 30 years is never having the chance to be sent to war when the opportunity arose, which was several times since his enlistment in 1973. Although he would have like to have accompanied his fellow devil dogs on the battlefield, he is thankful he was never put in harm's way.
"I do take some satisfaction in knowing that I trained or served with some of the Marines who were sent to these conflicts," Waltz said.
Waltz has eaten, slept and breathed the Marine Corps for the past 30 years, but when asked his most memorable moment, it was meeting his wife, Laurie. He met her on a blind date while stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Unfortunately shortly after meeting her he was sent to Japan for one year, but she wrote him the whole time. So when he got back, they married. They have two children, a 21-year-old daughter, Jilliane, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps, and son Kiel, 19, who is attending Armstrong Atlantic University in Savannah.
Wingard has only worked with Waltz for about a year, and in that short time has become fond of the seasoned veteran.
"The thing that really impresses me about him is that he is a no nonsense type of man," Wingard said. "He does not like to sit there waiting for something to happen. He likes to do what needs to be done and get on with life."
As Waltz leaves, a big void will be left behind, almost impossible to fill.
"We [the command] really hate to let go of a senior staff NCO, especially when we feel comfortable working with them, as I feel comfortable working with Waltz," Wingard said.
Upon retiring, Waltz was awarded the Legion of Merit for "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service while serving as the base sergeant major."