From Bearcat Battalion to the world

LTC Jeffrey Keenan and Stephanie Keenan step up to new U.S. Army leadership roles

When Jeffrey Keenan and Stephanie Rausch arrived on UC’s campus as two fresh-faced teenagers in a sea of thousands, they brought with them their own simple plans for their future. Jeff would become a businessman “like everyone’s dad.” Stephanie would become a fashion merchandiser. Little did they know that their UC experience would vaporize their plans and launch them onto a global path of leadership, service, family and adventure.

Today, LTC Jeffrey Keenan (Bus ’04) and Stephanie Keenan (CAHS ’04, ’06) are a prominent military couple who have lived in 12 homes during their 15 years of marriage. Jeff, highly decorated and with three deployments behind him, is the Department Chair & Professor of Military Science at Augusta University in Augusta, Ga., and a newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army. He will lead a battalion of 400 soldiers when he begins his command tour in Germany next summer. Stephanie is working full-time as a speech-language pathologist in public schools and is progressing toward a clinical doctorate in speech-language pathology at Valdosta State University. 

If I don’t have UC, I don’t have what I have today.

LTC Jeffrey Keenan

“If I don’t have UC, I don’t have what I have today,” LTC Keenan said. “I don’t have the friendships, I don’t have the connections, I don’t have the life. It’s emotional to think how different it would be. The bond with my wife starts at the corner of Calhoun and Jefferson. Having that connection and shared experience set us up for success.”

The week before being interviewed for this article, the Keenans were at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., attending leadership courses in preparation for their new roles in battalion command. Said Stephanie: “They emphasized the importance of self-care and personal development while helping us to develop leadership skills, because we are going to have younger soldiers and spouses looking up to us and watching how we handle situations. It’s necessary to provide a level of support, especially because being overseas is not easy for a family.”

Choosing UC 

Stephanie, who grew up in Columbus, Ohio, chose UC because it offered a chance for independence, had a wonderful campus atmosphere, was her grandfather’s alma mater, and was located in a major city. Initially enrolled in DAAP, she transferred into the College of Allied Health Sciences and switched her major to communication sciences and disorders. She knew something about healthcare in general – her mother was a nurse – and speech therapy in particular. As a child, she had worked with a speech therapist.

Jeff, who grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron, came to Cincinnati for his campus tour in the fall of 1998 and promptly came down with food poisoning. “I threw up in a trash can during my campus tour,” he recalled. “I was utterly miserable. UC was in the height of construction; the campus was torn apart. But something just spoke to me: the city, the atmosphere. And it was the farthest I could go away from home without going out of state. Through the midst of food poisoning, I felt like I could start my next chapter here.”

He joined the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity and was working his way through the business co-op program when, in the winter of his freshman year, he suffered a severe arm fracture while playing intramural basketball. He moved out of his dorm, underwent major reconstructive surgery – he still has four screws and a plate in his arm – and went home to recover on his parents’ couch. He was trying to decide whether to return to UC when his fraternity brothers intervened, beseeching him to come back. He did, but with a difference. “I knew I wanted to stay a Bearcat,” Jeff recalled. “I also knew I needed to add something.”

That something was ROTC. Jeff had a strong personal connection to the Army because his paternal grandfather, Paul Keenan, whom he revered, was career military and had served in World War II. Sergeant Major Keenan was captured in 1943 at the battle of Anzio, Italy, and eventually escaped -- twice from the Germans and once from the Russians.

I knew that coming out of UC as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army – a platoon leader responsible for 40 people and several million dollars’ worth of equipment – would far exceed anything I could have done otherwise.

LTC Jeffrey Keenan

“I knew that I had the aptitude and the spirit to serve,” Jeff said. “I knew that coming out of UC as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army – a platoon leader responsible for 40 people and several million dollars’ worth of equipment – would far exceed anything I could have done otherwise. Not many new hires walk out with that opportunity. I knew it would strengthen whatever career aspirations I had. It also meant I would graduate debt-free.”

He began as an ROTC cadet. “I raised my hand before 9-11,” he said. And with that, the Bearcat Battalion began shaping his leadership skills. And his life.

Finally, the 'meet-cute'

jeffrey-keenan-and-stephanie-keenan

Jeff and Stephanie met at UC through the Alpha Phi Omega community service organization, but never had a conversation. While sharing a class together, Jeff, looking handsome in his ROTC uniform, caught Stephanie’s eye. She had already caught his. “I’d always seen her at a distance, but never had the opportunity for that meet-cute moment,” he said.

They finally connected in 2003 while out with friends in Mount Adams and began dating soon after.

Jeff completed his five-year business program (without the full co-op) in 2004 and reported for his active-duty commission as a signal officer. In 2005, while Stephanie was getting her master’s degree at UC, Jeff was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Stephanie, not knowing when he might call, kept her cell phone in front of her, even in class. “So that I didn’t seem rude, I had to tell my professors – this was before texting and the wonders of FaceTime – that my boyfriend is deployed. If he calls, I need to answer, because I don’t know when he’s going to call again. I carefully slipped out into the hallway on several occasions to take the calls.” 

Stephanie volunteered to be the first in her class to defend her thesis so that she would have it completed when Jeff returned. She drove to Ft. Campbell, KY, to see him return home from that deployment the very next morning.

They were married in 2006.

The Keenans, now the parents of three children, marvel at how their love for and faith in each other allowed their relationship to evolve and thrive. “I knew he was going to be on active duty,” Stephanie said. “But looking back, I think I was kind of naïve. You don’t think of the challenges at the time, but you know you’re on the right path.”

Said LTC Keenan: “She married this guy who had a very certain but uncertain future. It speaks a lot to her character that she was willing to sign on to this. It was very difficult at that stage in life to know what kind of life I was going to offer her. The fact that the foundation of our relationship can be found in Clifton, the thing that bound us together at the beginning, gave us a better than fighting chance to make it.”

I knew he was going to be on active duty. But looking back, I think I was kind of naïve.

Stephanie Keenan

The Keenans, now the parents of three children, marvel at how their love for and faith in each other allowed their relationship to evolve and thrive. “I knew he was going to be on active duty,” Stephanie said. “But looking back, I think I was kind of naïve. You don’t think of the challenges at the time, but you know you’re on the right path.”

Said LTC Keenan: “She married this guy who had a very certain but uncertain future. It speaks a lot to her character that she was willing to sign on to this. It was very difficult at that stage in life to know what kind of life I was going to offer her. The fact that the foundation of our relationship can be found in Clifton, the thing that bound us together at the beginning, gave us a better than fighting chance to make it.”

A military star rising

the-keenan-family

LTC Keenan has risen steadily through the ranks. His current position places him on an executive-level plateau similar to that of a corporate vice president. He previously served the Joint Staff in the Pentagon as a J6 Cyber Division Action Officer and as the Executive Assistant to the Deputy Director for Information Warfare. His multiple awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and the Joint Service Commendation Medal.

“I didn’t join the Army because I wanted to be a lieutenant colonel,” he said. “When I was a graduating cadet, I just wanted to lead troops in combat and bring them all home. I exceeded those expectations as a 2nd Lieutenant. In April 2008, I took command of my first company and did that for a year. I thought, ‘I think I want to do this again.’”

LTC Keenan commanded his second company in Germany and then went to Fort Leavenworth for graduate school. His most recent promotion capitalizes on his rarified individual qualities with the military’s investment in him. He is among the first battalion commanders to be selected through a rigorous new assessment program, which identifies leaders based on their communication skills, creativity, ethical leadership, fitness, thoughtfulness, and ability to develop those skills in others.

“I acknowledge the fact that I’m in a pretty small group now,” LTC Keenan said. “It is a milestone. It’s a milestone for both Stephanie and I.”

As the Keenans assume their new leadership positions and prepare for their return to Germany next summer, they are grateful for the opportunities and strengths military life has given them and for the people they’ve met along the way.

Our kids are so resilient; they can adapt to anything. Moving around so much has afforded us to be that way, to fall in wherever we go.

Stephanie Keenan

the-keenan-family

“We’ve seen the world,” Stephanie said. “We have three children.  Brayden, 12, was born in Cincinnati; our daughter, Ainsley, 9, was born in Germany, and our 4-year-old daughter, Hadley, was born in Augusta. Our kids are so resilient; they can adapt to anything. Moving around so much has afforded us to be that way, to fall in wherever we go.”

Stephanie has been equally resilient. Her skills as a speech-language pathologist are in high demand, and wherever she has lived she has found employment, whether in a hospital, school or private practice.

For LTC Keenan, serving as a professor of military science has been a dream job, one that enables him to give back to the next generation. “America is an experiment that is 230 years old,” he said. “In times of hyperpolarization, we forget that this is an experiment. When I took my oath – and I’ve reaffirmed my oath several times in my career – I pledge my loyalty and my service to defend an idea crafted over 230 years ago: the Constitution. I believe the ideals founded in it are worth defending with my life. Unfortunately, the world is a dangerous place. I’ve buried friends and I’ve sacrificed because I believe the American experiment is worth protecting.”

While most Americans, including LTC Keenan, revere “the Greatest Generation,” whose heroism and sacrifice defeated Nazi Germany, he believes today’s young soldiers have been under-appreciated. “For the last 20 years we have been sending young men and women overseas to face enemies of freedom, and it has had little to no impact on our way of life,” he said. “There is an element of greatness in this generation of men and women, and they’re still coming to the Army – an all-volunteer force – because they believe in what the institution offers.”

Returning to home base

Throughout the moves, the deployments, and the adjustments that come with saying goodbye to old friends and hello to new ones, one constant has remained: Stephanie’s and Jeff’s love of UC. Like other distinguished military graduates from UC who are off serving “in dusty, far-off places,” they do not always get back for Homecoming. But when they do, it’s a joy. “We don’t have to fight each other to go,” Stephanie Keenan said. “Having something for just the two of you, having those solid things you can go back to as a couple, is important.”

“I know it’s cheesy,” Jeff added. “But it all began at UC. If it wasn’t for that university, the climate, the culture, the people, the experience, I wouldn’t have stayed. I had every reason not to stay. Something kept us there. Take UC out of my life, and it all goes away. For us, it’s more than just going back to our alma mater. It’s a romantic affection we have for that place. We always go back up and walk through campus holding hands. We weren’t recruited; we were just kids trying to figure out the rest of our lives. How different our lives would be without this place.”

Headshot of Justin Gibson, Bus '05

Justin Gibson, Bus '05

Program Director of Alumni & Donor Experience, Diversity Outreach and Engagement

513-556-4312