In 1975, Kenneth Younger had it made. He was a senior at Snider High School in Fort Wayne, Ind. He was 18 years old, worked at a bank and even had a relatively new car — a ’73 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight.
Fast forward 37 years, and life has changed a lot for Younger. Even his name is different. He legally changed it to Soldier 4theLord eight years ago. He is battling demons brought on by divorce, loneliness, an unusual Army career and the fact that his biological parents gave him up for adoption.
On Tuesday, 4theLord stood outside an office building he leases near downtown Killeen. The building is filled with kitchen equipment, some of it, like barbecue grills and food trailers, spilling outside into the parking lot.
“I’ve got so much stuff, it’s ridiculous,” he said.
Dressed in his Army battle dress uniform, the 56-year-old staff sergeant spoke about his life, personal challenges and up-and-down, 30-year Army career. He is scheduled to be released from the Army next July, pending review from a medical board.
Even not counting his unusual name — which gets him plenty of headlines — 4theLord’s path in the Army has been different from most. An active-duty staff sergeant at 30 years in the Army is nearly unheard of. Most enlisted personnel, if they are still in the Army, have reached the rank of sergeant major at the 30-year mark. He’s been an infantryman, finance specialist, recruiter, medic, truck driver and, during his last three years at Fort Hood, a chaplain’s assistant.
“I call myself an Army experiment,” 4theLord said.
He joined the Army three separate times, the first in 1982 after he was laid off from International Harvester in Indiana.
During his first stint in the regular Army, he earned expert infantry and air assault badges, and had success as an Army recruiter.
He left the Army once to go to college, and another time to try to start two restaurants in San Antonio. During the time he was out of the regular Army, he stayed in the Reserves, either part-time or full-time. Twenty-four of his years were active duty. At one time, he reached the rank of sergeant first class, but the Army removed a stripe as a prerequisite to rejoin the ranks, he said, adding his earnings statement states “30 years” on it due to his Reserve years.
He said his best years in the Army were as a recruiter. He loved recruiting, and was even named top recruiter of the year in Indiana during the late 1980s. He did well as a truck driver, too, earning honors in his training class.
Beneath the name tag, however, 4theLord is facing demons that go back decades. He was adopted as an infant. He feels guilty for being stationed hundreds of miles away while his parents in Fort Wayne faced medical hardships. He has been divorced twice, and is in the process of a third. He has children he has not seen in years.
The hardships can be heard in 4theLord’s soft-spoken, yet gruff voice, as he answers questions and goes off on tangents.
“I’m in pain.”
He gets overly excited easily, and he said he has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. He said he also has suffered from a memory disorder known as transient global amnesia, which can cause a person to lose the memory of their lives for a few hours.
“There’s a lot of us soldiers out here that want to speak, but they feel like no one is listening.”
He looks down and seems regretful when he speaks of his children — two sons and a daughter.
“They don’t speak to me.”
He brought up the topic of suicide.
“That’s a big issue with me,” adding he could possibly write a book on why he doesn’t consider taking his own life.
He said there are five key issues, including health, family and financial troubles, that can lead people to suicide.
“It seems like I’m dealing with all five.”
What’s in a name?
4theLord’s life took a turn eight years ago when he changed his name to Soldier 4theLord.
He was working full-time as a training noncommissioned officer for an Army Reserve medical unit in Minnesota. A life of failed marriages and unsuccessful economic ventures had set in. His parents in Indiana, who had adopted him as a baby, were increasingly ill. In one visit to his parents, he smelled something awful when he walked into the house. His mother had a gangrenous foot, which was later amputated.
“It was painful to not have access to them, and still do my job.”
It affected him, his personal life and his professional life.
“At that time, I felt like I was alone. ... I felt like I was different. I didn’t fit in.”
He was looking for a spiritual connection.
“When I changed my name to Soldier 4theLord, I was in pain.”
He filed the paperwork for the name change, which is legal in the Army, as long as you don’t change it to “Army Sucks,” 4theLord said.
He said his chain of command was furious about the name change, and threatened to finish his Army career.
He wanted to be transferred, but his command wouldn’t allow it.
4theLord kept the new name, which he had actually been using as an Internet screen name some time before that.
His parents lived on for a few more years, but not in good health. Their deaths, and final years in pain, still haunt him today.
“I couldn’t do enough. ... Always in the back of my mind, I felt I could have done more.”
The Lord’s calling
4theLord is the founder of Next Level Ministries, which he is trying to get off the ground.
“I want to do something completely needed and different.”
He has two programs for the ministry now: a daily soup kitchen he is trying establish in Copperas Cove and a job-help service for the homeless or needy.
Despite being the founder of a ministry, he’s not an ordained minister.
“I never went to a seminary or anything like that,” he said. “If you’re giving food away, that’s a ministry. It doesn’t have to be a church.”
He tries to help others, which in turn, helps his own soul, he said.
He picks up several needy people in Killeen who sell Sunday newspapers on street corners, taking them to where they need to go. The opportunity gives them a chance to earn a few dollars. He wants Next Level Ministries to match the money they earn. He wants to establish a similar program with a lawn care service.
When he gets out of the Army next year, he said he’d like to stay with his ministry, perhaps make it a traveling ministry.
One of his ideas is to have the vehicles he uses for his ministry, which include food trailers, a 15-passenger van and a cargo van, covered in decals with ministry sponsors, similar to a NASCAR race car.
“I have so many visions, just pray for me.”
For Thanksgiving and the Christmas season, he’s not sure what he’ll do.
“I’m just up in the air right now,” he said. “I would like to exhale, enjoy some quality time.”
He said he’s thankful for the ability to keep marching on despite the hardships, and having the fortitude to want to bless people and “continue my therapy” — his ministry.
“It helps me,” he said. “It’s so easy to be distracted.”
4theLord doesn’t see himself as a saint.
“I’ve got issues and things that I’m dealing with every day.”
A life of adopted parents, and later the adopted Army, 4theLord said he is still looking to be adopted.
“I’m still looking for that mentor.”
Contact Jacob Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468