- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Johnnie Chennault has no regrets about joining the Navy Reserve, even though it means that he is going to Iraq later this month.

But he does worry about not being around to help take care of his house full of 11 children.

“Leaving my children, leaving my wife for so long — you’re going to miss all the little things as the kids grow up,” he said.

Mr. Chennault and his wife, Ronda, have children of all ages growing up at their home in Springfield, a small town about 30 miles north of Nashville: Terr’i, 17; Stephen, 15; Jobie, 14; Joshua, 12; Zakari, 8; Johnnie IV, 7; Mikal, 6; Syerra, 4; Gracee, 3; Jakob, 1; and Nikalus, 8 months.

“Yeah, I have more kids than most people, but I don’t think my kids are any more important to me than somebody who has two kids. His kids are important to him, too. I just have more to miss.”

The Chennaults knew deployment was possible when he joined the Navy’s Construction Battalion, the famed Seabees, two years ago.

Mr. Chennault, 29, had inquired about enlisting in the Army, the Air Force, the Marines and the Navy, but they all told him that it was against policy to take someone who has that many children to support on a newly enlisted man’s pay.

The Navy, however, said that wouldn’t matter if he joined the Reserves.

But with the war in Iraq, his unit was called up for duty, and he left yesterday for training at Gulfport, Miss., and then on to Iraq.

“After 9/11, it just seemed like a big need, like there was something else I could do,” Mr. Chennault said.

His employer, Sears, will make up the difference in pay while he is in Iraq, an assignment that Mr. Chennault thinks will last seven or eight months. He has worked for Sears for nine years, mostly as an auto mechanic.

The Chennaults met while working on the General Jackson excursion boat and married when she was 25 and he was 19. The four eldest children are hers from a previous marriage.

While her husband is away, Mrs. Chennault will rely more on her parents and on their church, South Haven Baptist. The children will have to do more for themselves.

“We go to a really good church, and they talk in there a lot about the husband’s and the wife’s role, what the Bible says is the husband’s and wife’s role,” she explains. “And my role is to support my husband. My mother told me when I got married, ‘Your life is about him, and you need to be there for him.’ ”

Mrs. Chennault is proud of the example her husband is setting.

“It’s important for the kids to see that he can’t just weasel out of the duty that he volunteered for,” she said.

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