THE ARMY UNIVERSITY, FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas – Retirement celebrations are opportunities for reflection and thanks.
The Army University’s Chief of Academics and Command and General Staff College’s Dean of Academics, Dr. Jack Kem, did reflect on his 25 years with the university, but also closed his remarks at a ceremony honoring his 49 years of federal service with a challenge to family, friends, and colleagues in attendance.
“We are in the business of peoples’ lives. And about this country. And about this Army. I want you to know each one of you makes a difference,” Kem said. “I ask you to reflect on what you’re doing. Why you’re doing it, and the significance you’re making.”
Kem served in his last role since 2021. He joined the CGSC team in June 2000 holding positions as an associate dean and teaching team lead, and supervisory profession in the college’s Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations.
The time with students in the classroom is high on the list of top moments in his 49 years of service Kem explained, because of the reciprocal impact on both their lives and his.
Having taught thousands of students over the years, and assisting more than 200 achieve master’s degrees, Kem has received a lot of “kind notes” over the years expressing gratitude toward his mentorship. The most impactful notes, Kem explained, aren’t always from those who have earned high ranks in the Army.
“I really appreciate the ones that come back…They did not make full colonel. They did not make brigadier general. They may have retired as a major but I made a difference in their life. They don't measure success by just being promoted and to me that's really more successful,” he said. “They’re successful in life. They're successful in their marriage and successful in being a father or a mother. And I was able to help them look at their priorities a little differently, which got them on a path that I think they're happier.”
While his time at CGSC was not spent only in the classroom, his time on the administrative side of the college was just as meaningful and required the same intentional purpose.
As dean, Kem was still able to make an impact, this time on a larger scale and not just for the students.
A memorable moment as dean was helping a team in the creation of the Leavenworth National Security and Education Consortium, which he notes as another significant accomplishment that goes beyond the initiative’s establishment.
The LNSEC is a collaboration of seven universities and colleges to strengthen national security education and research across several lines of efforts.
The impact of LNSEC goes beyond education on national security, Kem explained.
“It's about what we do for our country and what KU does for the country and K-State does for the country. I think that's been all so important,” he said.
The same sentiment is something Kem often shared with faculty; the role of The Army University and CGSC goes beyond the students.
“I really believe what we do here at Fort Leavenworth, at the Command and General Staff College is about saving this country and about lives and about our fellow man,” he said.
Kem’s career of service started as a way to straighten out his life, he said, was focused on more of the social side of college.
Convinced by friends who had already joined the Army, he joined in November 1974.
“I told my mother I was going to join the Army. She immediately cried. And cried for along time,” Kem said. “Before she died a few years back, she said, ‘You know, that Army thing kind of worked out.”
“Working out” is a simple way of defining a distinguished military career that began with time as an enlisted bandsman before joining ROTC and ended with retiring at the rank of colonel after 24 years of service in 1998.
Finding success within ROTC was where the military became more than a way to earn a degree and “grow up.”
He reflected on his personal definition of service, which would help shape how he moved throughout his career. Service, to Kem, meant serving others.
“I served in military service, armed service and federal service because there are people out there who need all of us to play our part and do the very best, we can,” he said. “It’s about serving this country and our fellow man. It’s not just about a retirement check, or good friends, or a good job or going back to school or all these things we talk about. It’s actually a profession and I had to be a retired colonel before I woke up to that.”
Selfless service is one of the four foundational characteristics, Brig. Gen. David Foley, Provost, The Army University, used to describe how Kem made an impact throughout his long career.
Foley explained, a “void” of these impactful behaviors would be left in The Army U and CGSC formation with the retirement of Kem.
“There isn’t a time I had with a discussion with him that he wasn’t thinking about an individual to mentor, an initiative that needed to be clarified ahead of a conversation we had to have,” Foley said. “The selfless nature by which he came into work every day was inspiring to not only me but the generation of leaders who aren’t necessarily here today but have felt his leadership and presence.”
Other traits included faith, devotion to family, mentorship, and courage, that, according to Foley, pushed the institution and Army as a whole forward.
“Not only did these orchestrate the duties of the dean but also orchestrate the duties of how we’re going to set the next generation up for success,” he said. “No one really knew what was happening behind closed doors to allow innovation. To allow conceptual thought. To allow growth. To allow transformational change, and you had that in Dean Kem.”
Continued growth is something Kem hopes to see from The Army U and CGSC as he steps into his new role in life.
Improved flexibility and collaboration across the Army Education Enterprise are strides Kem explained he’s started to see and hopes continues.
He also emphasized the desire to see more delineated focus on non-commissioned officer, warrant officer, and commissioned officer education.
While Kem will be stepping away from his role as dean, his retirement plans are service driven and will keep him firmly connected to not only The Army U and CGSC, but also the Fort Leavenworth area.
As Dean Emeritus, Kem will have the opportunity to be part of the instruction of students at the university, and he’d like to continue to serve within the consortium.
The top priority for Kem during retirement is being a deliberate piece of his family’s life especially his grandchildren.
Kem’s retirement wish list also includes research and development of a self-guided tour of the Lewis and Clark building, home to The Army U and CGSC; researching and writing on the history of Kansas; exploring the state more to include a visit to the Truman Library; and taking in more Sterling College Women’s Basketball.
The following in a shortened version of Kem’s biography.
Kem held the following positions during his time at The Army University/CGSC from 2017-2024: Supervisory Professor, CGSC, Department of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations; Teaching Team Lead, CGSC; Adjunct Scholar, Modern War Institute; Professor, CGSC; Associate Dean, CGSC; Chief Academic Officer, The Army U; Dean of Academics, CGSC.
He began his military career in 1974, and retired in 1998 as a Military Intelligence officer at the rank of colonel.
His military assignments include Battalion S2, G2 Plans Officer, DTOC Support Element Chief, and Battalion XO in the 82d Airborne Division; as a Brigade S2 in the 3d Infantry Division; as a Company Commander and Battalion S3 in the 3d Armored Division; and as the Battalion Commander of the 319th Military Intelligence Battalion, XVIIIth Airborne Corps.
Following his military service, Kem deployed 2009-2011, as a member of the Senior Executive Service to Afghanistan as the Deputy to the Commander, NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan (NTM-A) / Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan (CSTC-A). His responsibilities included providing broad oversight of the program management of the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (over $25 billion for 2009-11), oversight of the ministerial advising program for the Afghan Ministries of Interior and Defense, serving on the US Embassy’s Rule of Law Deputies’ Committee, providing oversight of the Afghan National Security Force Literacy Program, and spearheading the Human Rights Integration and Gender Integration Initiatives for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.
Kem is an accomplished author to include five books and more than 35 articles in a wide variety of publications.
His civilian awards and decorations include the Secretary of Defense Meritorious Civilian Service Award, the EUPOL – Afghanistan Gold Medal, the Polish Armed Forces Gold Medal, two Superior Civilian Service Awards, and the Commander’s Award for Civilian Service.