At age 17, Layne Pennington signed the enlistment papers declaring his intent to report for induction into the U.S. Marine Corps following high school graduation. Still a minor, Pennington’s papers required his mother’s signature in order to make his enlistment legal.
“I believed in our country. I wanted to do something for our country. I wanted to be on the front lines of service,” he said of his desire to commit to the Marines in 1977.
Today, Pennington is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Dayton, Tennessee.
His three-year stint in the Marines took him to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina; Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert, Camp Pendleton in California; and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. An injury during physical training drastically altered Pennington’s work assignment. His fall further aggravated a previous problem, rendering his right arm virtually useless.
His days of driving the generals and even carrying the ground radio were over. In fact, his next activity was a flight across country for orthopedic surgery at Camp Lejeune.
Even though his time in the Marines was much shorter than expected, Pennington identified several significant lessons from those years. “The strength of teamwork – even though we were pushed almost beyond limits as an individual, the real power was working together as a team,” he said.
Pennington also acknowledged the value of working with many different nationalities. “A strong leader in the Islam faith community and I became friends in boot camp and learned we could respect one another even though we both came from somewhat different faith communities.”
During his years in the military, Pennington led evangelistic teams on the streets of Los Angeles and Jacksonville, North Carolina. As a result of his actions in boot camp, Pennington received the Protestant Christian Leadership Award. He was also recognized with an outstanding marksmanship award.
Pennington is a member of a military family. His father fought in both World War II and the Korean Conflict. Several uncles are veterans. He and his four brothers served in the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines.
“It’s like World War II when we get together and brag about which branch of military is the best,” he quipped.
One week after being discharged from the Marines, Pennington was contacted by a leader in the Holston Conference about preaching in a small church in Virginia. He accepted the opportunity, furthered his training and was licensed by the United Methodist Church.
From that time forward, he has served as a minister in churches in Virginia and Tennessee.
Rebecca Tucker is a writer for The Herald-News and a member at First United Methodist Church in Dayton, Tennessee.
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