OKEECHOBEE — Christopher Stephens was born and raised in Okeechobee, and on July 1, 1998 left his hometown to join the Army. He went to Fort Benning, Ga. for boot camp for infantry. He did a short time in the Army, he said, but was injured after about a year and had to come back home. When he recovered from his injury, he decided to go back into the military but wanted to do something different. He wanted to try military police, but when he went to the Army recruiters, they said, “Oh no. You’re infantry. That’s what you signed up for. That’s what you will always be.”
He walked straight out that door, he said, and across to the Navy recruiters and asked if they had military police. They told him they sure did, so he joined the Navy. He didn’t have to go through boot camp because he had already done that. He went straight to military police school, and when he graduated from military police school, he was sent overseas to Greece in 2002 and right before the push into Iraq in 2003, he was assigned to a special detail on a ship to protect the assets on board, and then after that he received orders to go to Iraq.
In the initial push into Iraq, they went through small towns in order to get to Baghdad, and that was when some of the heaviest fighting was going on, he said. He did check point duty, interrogations on the battlefield, kicking down doors, evidence search and seizure, and any other missions they dictated out to his team — move forward, take different areas, pretty intense stuff, he said. He enjoyed most of it though, and he did three tours in Iraq. He spent almost three years over there.
He was assigned to different units because the Navy really doesn’t have a ground force, he explained, but he was an individual augmentee with the Marine Corps, with the Army, and when he was assigned to them, he went on whatever mission they went on. At the time, the Secretary of the Navy said, “Hey we have our ships and our aircraft but other than our special warfare community we don’t have a whole lot of people on the ground to assist and supplement some of the forces,” so they started doing individual augmentee assignments, and Mr. Stephens became one of those augmentees because of his experience in the infantry, he said. He was also a small arms’ marksman instructor and had gone through the NCIS anti-terrorism protection school, so he had some training behind him which was what they were looking for. He knew his way around a weapon and knew certain tactics so he was a good fit.
Unfortunately, he was injured while he was overseas. It was an injury he thought was going to be repairable, and he is fine, but there are limitations, he said. At that time, they were not keeping people with injuries that might make you a liability.
“They use you, and then they send you on your way,” he said. “They did the same thing to the guys from Vietnam. Once you are used up, they don’t want you anymore.”
If he could have, he would have stayed in. He had about 12 years in. He would have been retired now. “Things could have been worse, though,” he said.
During his 12 years, he did a stint in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba doing detainee operations for the guys that were picked up in Afghanistan. They were sent there for detention and interrogation. He worked down there with the Army.
While he was in the Navy, he spent some time on assignment on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower. They did a Mediterranean cruise and did some circles up in the Gulf and air operations over Iraq, so he did get to do the “real” Navy job, as well, he said. That was fun too, they went to Naples, Portugal, Cyprus and Bahrain. They hit a couple ports, and it was good, he said. He was a watch commander of his patrol section and had about 40 men under him as they patrolled the ship. They performed security alert drills and things like that, he explained.
He has been all over the world, from Naples, Italy to Rome to London to Portugal. He has been to every corner over the United States, much of it for training. In Texas, he went to Lackland Air Force Base for Brig Afloat, which is basically a jail on water, he said, so while they were deployed he was able to do that when they had someone in the brig. He got his enlisted warfare (ESWS) pin. “They make you get this pin, but it is still a prestigious pin to earn,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, but it was cool and a big accomplishment.”
When he got out of the military, he really missed it. He liked the routine, structure and discipline. Even recently, he has tried to go back in, but they said it isn’t going to happen because of his injury. In the eyes of the VA, he is considered 98% disabled.
Now, he works as a project manager for Gator Security, and he really enjoys it. He is able to utilize his background in protection and anti-terrorism, and he finds it interesting.
Mr. Stephens has a 17-year-old son, who he describes as extremely intelligent and just a real good kid.