Three finalists named for Citadel commandant

Col. Leo Mercado inspects the S.C. Corps of Cadets. (Photo provided by Citadel photographer Russell Pace)
Col. Leo Mercado inspects the S.C. Corps of Cadets. (Photo provided by Citadel photographer Russell Pace)
By Ashley Barker
Published April 3, 2014

The Citadel has narrowed its search for a new commandant of cadets to three finalists, according to a news release.

Commandant Col. Leo A. Mercado, who is responsible for the command and oversight of the 2,300-member Corps of Cadets, is retiring. The finalists to fill his position are retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. John “Jay” C. Kennedy, U.S. Air Force Col. Stephen P. Luxion and U.S. Navy Capt. Eugene F. Paluso.

Finalists have been invited to campus for interviews, according to The Citadel. President Lt. Gen. John W. Rosa will make a recommendation to the college’s board of visitors, and a new commandant is expected to be chosen in the next few months.

Col. John “Jay” Kennedy
Kennedy is the commandant of midshipmen for the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. He worked at the U.S. Naval Academy as director of humanities and social sciences and was a Marine Corps Fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations.

He also served as the chief of staff for the 3rd Marine Corps Aircraft Wing in Iraq and flew numerous combat missions in rotary wing aircraft. His military awards include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Medal.

Kennedy earned master’s degrees in national security affairs from the National War College and in systems management from the University of Denver. His bachelor’s degree in physical science was awarded by the U.S. Naval Academy.

Col. Stephen P. Luxion
Luxion is the commander of the Air Force ROTC program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida. He has spent more than 15 years in CEO-level positions and has commanded teams of up to 400 professionals.

He served overseas several times, including as the director of the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron, where he led more than 100 military, government and contract personnel. Luxion’s service awards include the Distinguishing Flying Cross and the Meritorious Service Medal.

He holds four master’s degrees, including an MBA and a master’s of aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University along with a master’s degree in national security strategy from the National War College’s National Defense University and a master’s of airpower arts and science from the School of Advanced Air and Space Power Studies. Luxion also earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science systems from the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Col. Eugene F. Paluso
Paluso is a Navy Seal officer on active duty as the commander of the Naval Special Warfare Group Three at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The group consists of 700 specialized Seal and fleet personnel.

He has served in the Navy for approximately 25 years and has held leadership roles commanding special operations forces in Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan. Paluso’s service awards include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Commendation Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, Joint Achievement Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal.

Paluso graduated from The Citadel in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

Finalists for commandant of cadets were selected by a search committee including:

  • Retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Ralph Tice, chair
  • Col. Katherine Grenier, professor and head, Department of History
  • Brig. Gen. Samuel M. Hines, provost and dean
  • Retired U.S. Army Col. Tony Lackey, former assistant commandant
  • Col. Gregory Lapointe, board of visitors member
  • Lt. Col. Robert Pickering, director of multicultural affairs

Prior to becoming commandant in 2009, Mercado served as secretary of the general staff at Headquarters Marine Corps in Arlington, Va. He graduated from The Citadel in 1979.

“As commandant, Col. Leo Mercado set the highest standards for the South Carolina Corps of Cadets,” Rosa said in a statement. “Those fortunate enough to have been a cadet under his watch reflect his commitment to our core values, as well as the culture and traditions of The Citadel.”

Mercado was awarded the Palmetto Medal, one of the highest awards presented by The Citadel, in March.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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