Pembroke native is speaker at Marine ball

Retired Lt. Col. James R. “Rod” Keller, a 1982 Christian County High School graduate, was the guest of honor and speaker at a ball celebrating the U.S. Marine Corps birthday.

Retired Lt. Col. James R. “Rod” Keller says he thinks they went bottom feeding and snagged him in the lip.

“For me, it’s just an honor and privilege to be invited as a guest of honor,” says Keller, who notes that it’s often famous people who are guests at the annual balls celebrating the U.S. Marine Corps birthday.

The son of Gary and Martha Keller of Pembroke, Keller received an invite from the Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26 Command Team to speak at that group’s 243rd annual Marine Corps Ball.

Keller explains that there are numerous balls each year hosted by the corps’ different squadrons.

The 26th squadron’s event was Saturday at the Greenville Convention Center in Greenville, North Carolina.

“My dad’s all excited about it,” says Keller, a Hopkinsville native who is retired after 31 years of service with the Marine Corps and who now works for Bell Helicopter, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas.

Keller works at the Marine Corps Air Station in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and he says he is fortunate to still be working around Marines.

He notes that the annual birthday observance for the Marines started small, although every organization in the Marine Corps now has its own ball, he explains. He notes that the Marines had its beginning in a Philadelphia tavern on Nov. 10, 1775. (According to information at history.com, the corps started with a resolution passed by the Continental Congress during the American Revolution.)

For a poor country boy from Pembroke, Keller’s father said his son did pretty well.

A 1982 graduate of Christian County High School, Rod Keller enlisted in the Marine Corps on Nov. 12, 1985, just two days after what would have been the corps’ 210th birthday celebration.

He attended boot camp at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina.

He started his career working in maintenance, Gary Keller said, and rose through the ranks as an enlisted man. When the military discontinued the phantom jets his son had been working on, Rod Keller was sent to Cherry Point, North Carolina, where he trained to be a flight engineer working on AC130s.

Eventually selected to be a warrant officer, the younger Keller went on to achieve a chief warrant officer 3 ranking and later applied to be a commissioned officer. He was made a captain and a major before being promoted to lieutenant colonel, his father said.

Gary Keller’s son served in Somalia and Kuwait and was in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2013.

Among his honors while in the Marine Corps, Rod Keller received the Meritorious Service Medal (gold star in lieu of second award), the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (gold star in lieu of fourth award) and a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

He retired last March.

Gary Keller notes that his son will be speaking tonight before a crowd of some 1,200 to 1,500 people.

“It’s nothing he can’t handle,” the elder Keller notes. “He’s been doing it for a long time.”

Reach TONYA S. GRACE at  tgrace@kentuckynewera.com or 270-887-3240.

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