View Full Version : Retired Marine gives kids the boot camp treatment

02-16-07, 08:31 AM
Retired Marine gives kids the boot camp treatment

By Sarah Thuerk

Daily Times Staff Writer

Cross a loving mentor with a hard-nosed Marine, and you get a pretty accurate description of Gunnery Sgt. Richard Menniefield.

Better known as Gunny Menniefield or simply "Gunny," he is the kind-hearted yet no-nonsense former Marine who serves as the Gang Prevention and Targeted Outreach Coordinator for Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club in Wilson.

Having served for 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Menniefield takes discipline seriously. He operates the Boys and Girls Club boot camp, a program for at-risk youth, ages 8 to 16, with behavioral problems.

Wearing camouflage and a cover -- or, in civilian terms, a hat -- Menniefield screams orders in the faces of his boot camp program recruits.

"Don't look at me with those beady eyes! You'd better not be smiling!" he screamed at one boy during boot camp last week.

But as Menniefield stepped outside of the room to talk to parents, his demeanor changed.

"That's not me in there. It's really not. These boys just need discipline," he said.

Parents don't seem to mind when Menniefield acts as a sergeant. Boot camp, after all, is about learning discipline, confidence, stability and self-direction, the Marine said.

"He does a good job. These kids are hard-headed and don't listen. But it's hard to ignore Gunny," said Teressa Torres, whose son is in the boot camp program.

Juveniles who have exhibited frequent behavioral problems may be recommended to the boot camp program by various local organizations such as the state Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The program lasts for 11/2 hours, three nights a week for six weeks.

The boot camp includes some "tough love," which he said is "in your face" and includes physical activities such as pull-ups. Next is a mentoring stage when Menniefield discussed with students any personal issues they might be having. Finally, he eases up a bit more and focuses on showing the students how they can achieve their goals.

The boot camp, though, is only a portion of what Menniefield does with the Boys and Girls Club. He also works with Smart Moves, a program open to all youth, and Targeted Outreach, which focuses on gang prevention. He has volunteered for Toys for Tots since he joined the Marines in the mid-1970s.

The Marine's dedication to area youth spreads to all areas of his life. He considers activities such as taking young people ice skating or to Raleigh to see their first opera as his hobbies.

"This has been my life for years. I started doing the Toys program 26 years ago in Okinawa, Japan, and met kids who had never received anything. It just started from there," he said.

Menniefield, who has two children attending high school in Ohio and four adult children living in Alabama and North Carolina, joined the Marines while attending college in Alabama. He was assigned to Wilson to recruit in the eastern region in 1994 and wasn't pleased at first.

"I was supposed to go to Fort Lauderdale. I was reassigned at the last minute, and I didn't want it. I remember exactly when I arrived -- Aug. 13, 1994, at 11:54 a.m.," he said.

But Menniefield grew to love the area and worked diligently, especially on projects such as Toys for Tots. He remains friends with several local Marines whom he recruited years ago.

Josh Bunn, a former Marine who now owns Anne's Donuts on Airport Road, credited Menniefield with helping shape his life.

"If it weren't for Gunny, I wouldn't have my wife, my 4-year-old child or my business. I wouldn't have had the discipline to get where I am now. He's like a part of my family, and I admire all the work he does for gang prevention around here," Bunn said.

After retiring from the Marines in 2003, Menniefield took a marketing job for a year. He decided that line of work wasn't for him and came to the Boys and Girls Club in 2004. He continues to indirectly recruit for the Marines.

Menniefield regularly visits schools around Wilson, giving speeches to encourage students to avoid violence and stay in school. Every day he wears his military uniform.

"When students see me in school, they know I'm not there to socialize, I mean business," he said.

Having worked with young people around Wilson for 12 years, Menniefield sees a trend among youth who frequently find themselves in trouble.

"Most kids are looking for one identical thing. They want attention and love," he said. "I remind parents these are their children, no matter how old they get. They are your responsibility."

While on active duty and recruiting, he helped people achieve their dreams, he said. Getting juveniles to focus at school and work toward their goals is a similar effort.

"These kids trust him and talk to him when they won't talk to anyone else," said Boys and Girls Club secretary Jean Rosser.

Menniefield hopes his efforts leave a positive impression on the students he counsels.

"I enjoy the chance to redirect kids, get them on the right path," he said. "Hopefully I've made as much of an impact on their lives as they have on mine."

sthuerk@wilsondaily.com | 265-7819

Richard Menniefield

AGE: 52

FAMILY: Two sons in high school in Ohio, an adult son attending East Carolina University and three adult daughters in Alabama

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in political science from Canterbury University in the United Kingdom

CAREER: 26 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, then became Gang Prevention and Targeted Outreach Coordinator for Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club in 2003

VOLUNTEER ACTIVITIES: Toys for Tots, youth football coach, youth track coach, helps organize veterans' ceremonies and flag ceremonies


02-16-07, 08:32 AM
Favorite 'drill' sergeant dies

By Sarah Thuerk Daily Times Staff Writer

A retired Marine who is credited for shaping the lives of children at the Wilson Boys and Girls Club died suddenly Tuesday night following a workout with students.

Gunnery Sgt. Richard Menniefield, better known as "Gunny," collapsed at the Boys and Girls Club on Tarboro Street after running outside with several young people on the Club's track team.

An acute heart attack is the suspected cause of death, according to Wilson medical examiner Dr. Kenneth Carter. An autopsy has not been performed, Carter said, but there is no sign of foul play. Carter will speak with Menniefield's family to find out if they want an autopsy to be done.

"He was very fit, very healthy. EMS said there was no pulse when they arrived, and the EKG changes indicated a possible heart attack," Carter said.

Menniefield was 46 years old.

Boys and Girls Club Director Matt Edwards was nearby and attempted to revive Menniefield with the help of another administrator. EMS workers arrived "very quickly," Edwards said, and continued to work on Menniefield as the track team stood watching. He said Menniefield never regained consciousness.

Menniefield was a native of Alabama, where three of his adult daughters still live. He also had two high school-age sons in Ohio and a son attending East Carolina University.

A 26-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Menniefield retired from the service in 2003 and briefly took a marketing job before joining the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club.

At the Club, Menniefield served as the Targeted Outreach Coordinator. He also worked with Smart Moves, a program open to all youth, and ran a boot camp for at-risk youth ages 8 to 16.

Menniefield was known as being no-nonsense, wearing his full camouflage uniform and cover at the boot camp.

Parents whose children participated in the boot camp would meet with Menniefield and tell him if their children had recently acted up. Menniefield would respond swiftly and firmly, sometimes yelling like a drill instructor at the youngsters.

Since the mid-1970s, Menniefield helped organize the annual Toys for Tots charity, a Marine Corps program that collects toys for needy children.

Menniefield was assigned to Wilson in 1994 to recruit for the Marines in the eastern region. He touched the lives of many Marine recruits, including Josh Bunn, who joined the Marines in 1999 and now owns Anne's Donuts & Bakery on Airport Boulevard.

"This devastates me. Someone who is that physically fit, that young, that good a person, it just shows you it can happen to anyone," Bunn said today. "He was my recruiter and my best friend. He introduced me to my wife."

Bunn credited Menniefield with giving him the discipline he needed to join the Marines and eventually run his own business. He said Menniefield deeply impacted the lives of countless children at the Boys and Girls Club.

"I don't know how Boys and Girls Club can readjust from this. There aren't many people who cared for and talked to kids like he could," Bunn said. "He mentored them; he showed them love. I don't know how you can replace him. You can't."

Menniefield frequently visited schools in Wilson, checking on students in his programs and giving speeches about the importance of education. He wore his military uniform every day.

"This is like the community lost a lot of dads all at once," Edwards said. "People felt like Gunny belonged to them. He brought the community together from a racial and socio-economic standpoint."

Susan Myers, a qualified professional at Pride in North Carolina Inc., a human services organization, referred young people to Menniefield's outreach program. The Marine worked around the clock for youth, she said.

"He called me Christmas Day because he wanted to be sure a kid was cared for. I hope what he tried to portray for these kids is continued with the parents," Myers said.

Some of Menniefield's family members from Alabama and Ohio are in town making funeral arrangements. Bunn said he expects Menniefield's body will be buried in Alabama.

Hamilton's Funeral Chapel of Wilson is handling local arrangements, which were incomplete this morning.

Edwards and Bunn have been discussing a possible local memorial service. Those arrangements have not been set. Edwards said the family's wishes must first be met.

Menniefield's presence will be missed, but his colleagues believe he's still watching over the kids he cared for so much.

"I bet there's some hoo-rahs from heaven right now," Myers said.

sthuerk@wilsontimes.com | 265-7819