Change of Command

Published 9:55 am Monday, November 16, 2009

IRONTON — Colonel Jeffery Underhill never forgot where he came from, even while climbing the chain of command during a three-decade career in the U.S. Army.

Stationed 4,500 miles away at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, Underhill said the work ethics, values and traditions he learned while growing up in Ironton have been instrumental in completing the long list of successes his own military career has included.

That dedication, commitment and sacrifice again paid its dividends this past June when Underhill was named commander of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command headquartered at Fort Shafter. Further, a promotion to a permanent grade of Brigadier General is not far behind for the 1984 graduate of Morehead State University.

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As commander of the 94th, Underhill now heads up the Army combat arm that specializes in all types of anti-aircraft weapons such as surface to air missiles and air defense systems such as the Patriot Missile System.

It is a major responsibility Underhill eagerly accepts and a responsibility he says was forged when choosing a career in the U.S. Army.

“I’ve always known and respected the military since I grew up as a military brat. In fact, my father Gary died on active duty in 1977 while serving in the Air Force. A career in the military has given me opportunities that I otherwise would never have known,” Underhill said.

“From my civilian and military education, to leading warriors into combat in Iraq, to earning the titles: Paratrooper, Ranger, Officer, Leader, and soon to be Brigadier General. I’ve traveled to all corners of the globe, sat and learned from some of the most influential names of our lifetime, and experienced events you can’t read in books. My career in the military is something I’ll cherish and it’s something that I’ll never regret,” he added.

Underhill said opportunity the U.S. Army offered was the main reason he felt strongly in choosing the career path he did.

“The Army gave me an opportunity to serve in its ranks and I have enjoyed almost three decades of being Army strong! It gave me the opportunity to raise a wonderful family which is blessed by my high school sweetheart Kelli and two adult children Brandon and Britney,” explained Underhill who celebrated his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary this year. “There are three things I would do over in my life: I would want the same upbringing by my parents in Ironton; join the United States Army and marry the same woman.”

Despite being stationed in Hawaii, Underhill relishes any opportunity he can to get back to his beloved hometown. This May he returned to participate in the 141st Ironton-Lawrence County Memorial Day Parade and even participated in the Veterans Memorial Day 5K run.

“My wife Kelli and I visit home as much as possible. In fact, my son Brandon and his wife Zoya both live in Ironton along with my mother Jeannine and mother-in-law Pat. We are thankful that our parents shaped us during our younger years so we may become good citizens during our adult years,” Underhill said. “Our visit to Ironton this past Memorial Day was remarkable. As the longest and continuous running Memorial Day parade in our nation, like all Irontonian’s, I am very proud to observe this significant event because it’s symbolic of our past and present service members.”

Underhill said the recent tragedy at Fort Hood and the subsequent Veterans Day tributes are vivid reminders as to why our veterans should never be forgotten.

“As Americans, we owe so much to our past and present military men and women. Through our daily lives, the freedoms we cherish and sometimes take for granted are all because these men and women — along with their families — wake up each day and make enormous sacrifices,” Underhill said.

However, those enormous sacrifices are one Underhill says can become one of the most rewarding events in any person’s life should they have an interest like he did in making the military a career path.

“Where else can you be cold, hot, tired, wet, in combat, and oh by the way in charge. It’s absolutely brilliant what our men and women do every day. For those who have ambitions for a tour or career in the military; prepare yourself to experience things you never imagined, yet will make you a better person because you’ll serve something bigger than yourself.”