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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Mound City Marine looks to new challenges following retirement

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

The family of Lt. Col. Josh Randall celebrates his retirement from the Marine Corps at Fort Leavenworth on Sept. 14 after more than a quarter century of military life. Family members include, from left, Adison, Adeline, Joseph, Audrey, Josh, Adryn, and Josiah. (Submitted photo)

Following 27 years of training and service in two branches of military service, Josh Randall of Mound City celebrated his retirement a couple of weeks ago. His military career began with acceptance into a prestigious academy, was punctuated by a tour of duty in Afghanistan, and ended with teaching at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Randall, the son of Jan and Jesse Randall, was born in Iola but grew up in Mound City and graduated from Jayhawk-Linn High School with the class of 1995. He first planned on a career in the U.S. Air Force.

He was nominated by former U.S. Senator Jim Slattery to attend the Air Force Academy in Colorado on graduating from high school. However, the nomination process was taken over by Sam Brownback, then a U.S. senator from Kansas when Slattery began his unsuccessful run for governor.

Randall entered the academy in 1995 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in material science. He said that his studies focused more on engineering, a field he thought would be beneficial in the future.

However, while at the academy, he realized that his dream of being a pilot would not come to fruition because his eyesight wouldn’t meet the Air Force’s requirement. So he began looking at other branches of service, finally opting to enter the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School.

Family history was certainly a factor in choosing the Marines. Josh’s father was a Marine, and he said that was a significant influence in his house as he was growing up.

Upon his graduation from the Air Force Academy in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Materials Science, he cross-commissioned as a second lieutenant into the Marine Corps.

After attending Field artillery Officer Basic Course, he was assigned to Hawaii and deployed to Okinawa, Japan, with the 12th Marines in July 2000. Just before heading to Okinawa, he married Audrey Umphenour, the daughter of Kevin and Debi Umphenour and the late Michelle Umphenour, who died in a traffic accident when Audrey was a young child.

A native of Linn County, Audrey graduated from Pleasanton High School, and she was attending Kansas State University when they married.

While he remained stationed in Okinawa, Audrey returned back to Manhattan, Kan., to complete a degree in agricultural economics. She graduated in December 2001.

After three years of being stationed in Hawaii, in the summer of 2003 he joined a Marine detachment at Ft. Sill in southern Oklahoma, where he was an artillery instructor for both the Army and Marines.

In late 2005, Randall was unsure whether he wanted to continue a career with the Marines and gave serious thought to leaving then. But when he was selected to a one-year program in the Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico, Va., he decided he would remain.

Up to that point, Randall’s military service had involved learning techniques and strategies of artillery warfare and then teaching those skills to Marines who could use them in combat theaters around the globe.

However, he said that he felt that he should serve a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where fighting against the Taliban had been ongoing in the wake of 9/11 in 2001, when radical Islamic operatives crashed commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and into a Pennsylvania field when passengers tried retake control of the airplane from hijackers. Nearly 3,000 people died in those attacks.

In October 2007, Randall became the commanding officer of a battery stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., that served both the 10th Marines and the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He deployed to the Persian Gulf with the Marine Expeditionary Unit and then, as he describes it, basically floated around the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf for seven months.

He got back in early 2009, frustrated by what he perceived as not being able to support the war effort.

“Here I am in early 2009, still hanging around thinking you’ve got something I need to be doing, and my number’s still not being called,” he said. “You feel unfulfilled when so many people have sacrificed and done things and you haven’t.”

He said that while he wanted to contribute, the way the orders were being handed down and the personnel being assigned, he just wasn’t selected to go.

That changed as soon as he returned to the Marine base in Camp Lejeune. The Marines began ramping up their operations in Afghanistan in 2009, and he was assigned to a unit destined for the war-torn country that fall.

“I didn’t do anything dangerous or significant,” he said. “I just did my job.”

However, that might have been too modest.

He was stationed in an outpost in the Helmand River valley in support of ground troops trying to retake the city of Marjah. Operation Moshtarak was the name of the offensive, and he was involved in planning the operation, which has been described as one of the largest joint military operations in the war in Afghanistan.

Involving about 15,000 troops from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia and Afghanistan, Operation Moshtarak’s aim was to eliminate the last Taliban stronghold in central Helmand Province.

He said that many of the forces that participated in that operation were staged out of his base.

“We shot a lot of artillery in support of that, but really there wasn’t a lot of artillery shot in general,” he said.

After seven months in combat, he returned to Quantico in the spring of 2010 as an observer and trainer for Fires and Amphibious Operations, which trained troops headed to Afghanistan.

He continued serving in that capacity until July 2013 when he entered the Marine Corps University School of Advanced Warfighting, a graduate-level program. Graduates of that school then head to assignments that include advanced planning of operations. He graduated from that program in June 2014 and returned with his family to Okinawa to serve as the lead planner with a Pacific expeditionary force.

He ended up writing a plan that outlined the defense of Korea.

Beginning in August 2016, he served as the Operations Officer for the 12th Marine Regiment in Okinawa, conducting exercises in the Republic of Korea, Hawaii, and multiple locations in Japan.

In June 2018 Randall began serving as the Operations Officer for 14th Marine Regiment, a reserve unit in Fort Worth, Texas. He said that job was particularly challenging because he was assigned to provide training for reservists who would train on weekends or in longer exercises once a year.

At that point, Randall said, he was considering retirement at the end of that assignment. He told his monitor, an officer who was in charge of his assignments, of his intent to retire. The monitor asked if there was any assignment he would consider to stay longer.

“I half-jokingly said, ‘You can send me to Fort Leavenworth to be an instructor,’” he said.

His monitor took note of the suggestion and a few months later called back and asked if he was still interested. However, the monitor told him, the opening would come up in six months and so he would transition into teaching quickly.

After consulting with his wife, the family was moved home to Linn County, and in July 2020 Randall began his final assignment in the Marines, an instructor and assistant professor in the Department of Joint Interagency and Multinational Operations, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. With that assignment, he and Audrey and their family were able to move back home to Linn County.

That transfer came during just as the COVID pandemic was ramping up. That meant the staff was being kept out of the offices and while there was remote teaching, those who had in-person classes returned home soon after those classes were done for the day.

“It was really weird environment to work in for a year to a year and half,” he said.

Things began to return to normal, and he was commuting back and forth between Mound City and Leavenworth every day. He said that after a couple of years, the commute began to get old, and he made the decision to retire.

Although he and his family celebrated his retirement on Sept. 14, he technically remains in the Marines until Nov. 30. He had accumulated about two months of leave.

During his 23 years of service in the Marines, Randall earned the Meritorious Service Medal with three Gold Stars, the Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Gold Star, the Army Commendation Medal, and the Navy-Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

One of the advantages of Randall’s assignments – except for being deployed to the battle zone in Afghanistan – was being able to have his family with him during almost all of his career. His children range in age from 17 to 7.

“I never lived without them for more than seven months,” he said.

Randall and his wife had their oldest child, 17-year-old Adison, when he was stationed at Fort Sill. Adison now attends the same high school her father attended.

Their youngest, Joseph who is now 7, was born when he was stationed at Okinawa. The rest of the family includes 14-year-old Adeline; Josiah, 12; and Adryn, 10. Several of the children have lived in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and even Okinawa.

As Randall looks toward the future, he sees the advantage of having a military career that is completed at a fairly early age and will allow him to find a second career that interests him.

So far, he’s looked at management positions at companies in the Kansas City metro area.

However, one of the difficulties remains convincing potential employers that the management and procurement skills he learned the Marines will transfer to the civilian business world.

But he is looking at another option that will take his teaching skills and apply them to the public education system. He has been a coach and a substitute teacher for Jayhawk USD 346.

He said he has enjoyed his time in the classroom and has considered taking steps to be certified in teaching science. With all teachers – particularly science and math teachers – in short supply in today’s job market, it could be an opportunity for an area school to have a veteran with a wealth of stories who can make science and engineering relatable to students.

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