The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


May 07, 2007

Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 5/7/07
Returning from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Amherst,NY
Milblog url:

The reason why I serve has changed several times over the 19+ years I have been in the Army. My career started long before I ever raised my hand for the first time. It probably started in 1969, on the day I was born at Ft. Bragg to a father who was a Green Beret, home on leave from one of his multiple tours in Vietnam for my birth. This was the life I was raised in; Ft. Bragg NC, Ft. Devens MA, Presidio CA, Panama, and then to Mesa AZ where my dad finished up his career as an ROTC instructor at ASU.

Growing up, I could not stand the military, in fact I hated it with a passion. Why was my dad so strict? Why was I "restricted", while other kids were “grounded”? I remember having to explain the term, because non-military types had never used it. I grew up hearing “I am the SGT, you are the private, so you will do what I say." A Special Forces house is a tough one to be raised in, but I am so glad that I was. Not that I wasn’t a troublemaker or never got out of line, but it was rare, and when I did I knew the dire consequences. Framed_steward_korea_3

Somewhere along the way I became very independent and wanted to do everything myself. I know now it was because I did not want stuff held over me. It was this resentment towards my dad’s child-raising style that led me to the very career that I hated while growing up. Once I matured-up in high school and realized all the things he had done in his career, I got a lot closer to him. I was a photographer, and he converted a room in our house into a darkroom for me. As I reprinted a lot of photos for him from negatives he had from his tours in Vietnam, I realized that was the life I wanted. When I saw him and a few green beenies standing around a group of Laotians or some other local people, these images planted the seed.

I did not want to place the burden of higher education on my parents as they could not afford a lot, or at least the schools I wanted. As an aspiring  photojournalist I wanted to attend some pretty nice schools. The Army was the answer. I could do a three-year stint, pick up some nice college money, and then get out and go to school where I wanted to -- plus I figured the Army experience and training would be a benefit to my freelance photojournalist career. So one day during my junior year of high school I came home, sat my parents down, and told them I was joining. I told them what I wanted to do and what I would get for it. I don’t remember my parents’ expression or comments, but I am sure they were surprised. Many of my friends thought my dad had pushed me that way, but I was always happy to tell them no, this was a decision I made on my own.Framed_steward_bobtroy_2

Based on my ASVAB scores, I could have been a lot of things in the Army, but I wanted to be a grunt. I wanted to jump out of planes, like I grew up watching my dad do, and I wanted to be infantry. I remember the recruiters trying to push me into more technical specialties, but I would not budge: infantry or nothing.

So I joined, did my three years, and ended up re-enlisting while I was in Korea. My dreams of life as a photojournalist had pretty much vanished. I was very good at what I did in the Army and I really liked it. I had grown up bouncing from place to place as Dad was transferred, so this was not a new concept for me. Framed_steward_desert_storm321_2

I loved leading soldiers and training them too. I was on the fast track and moved very quickly in rank. I gave 110% at everything I did, and always shot up to be #1. This is evident by the number of military schools I graduated as Honor Graduate or Distinguished Honor Graduate. I lived by the mantra “Either you are first place or you are last”. There was no in between.

After I got back from the first Gulf War, I had seen enough, or so I thought. I had moved so fast through the ranks and had worked at positions so far above what I was supposed to that I was not challenged anymore. I was starting to get bored. I was losing the spark that made me love the Army. Not long after returning from the Gulf, I was married to the light of my life, and the idea of spending time raising a family and not deploying anymore started to be attractive. However, after only a few months of being married, I got the orders to PCS to Alaska. Since my wife was raised in Florida her whole life, this was a big decision. "Let's try it," we decided. We would probably never get up there otherwise. It was a chance to see some awesome country and make it more of a three-year vacation.Framed_steward_jumpmaster_2

This duty assignment was a challenge, and re-lit the fire on why I loved the Army. I was back on jump status, and I got to work in a variety of assignments. I established a good reputation in the battalion with everyone, and had a lot of pull. I was even able to swing a one-year extension in Alaska thanks to my Batallion Commander going to bat for me. However, at the end of four years there I was starting to get burned out again. I also went from having the best 1SG I had ever had in my career to having the worst  -- the worst example of leadership and what it means to be an NCO. Quite frankly he burned me out. I was not alone, as many NCOs called it quits after working for him, and just up and left the Army.

I had been working with computers for a couple of years and had a real interest in doing that full time. I found myself fixing a lot of them at the BN HQ and it was my BC at the time that encouraged me to pursue it. He said I had a talent there, and he could see that I was passionate about it. So I decided to end my time with the Active Army, but not with the military. I loved soldiers, working with them and the military life in general. I was just burned out on doing it every single day. So I joined a National Guard unit and stayed on jump status. This was a nice transition, since it was not the stereotypical NG unit and kept higher standards, which offset the slow-down in optempo.Framed_steward_and_son_2

I ended up moving to New York and joining the NG there. I served in several positions, but was always in charge of soldiers. This is the passion I have and why I still serve today. These are my boys, and there is nothing I would not do for them. NG soldiers are some of the most motivated I have ever seen, and there are a unique set of challenges in dealing with them. When I stand in front of my company and look at those faces I see the faces of my sons. In fact my own son serves in my unit, but when I see those 100+ faces staring back at me, regardless of age, race, or anything else, I see the boys that I have been entrusted to look over. I use the leaders that I looked up to as the guides and examples of how I deal with soldiers. I also look at the terrible leaders I have had as an example of how not to act.

They day after 9/11 found me racing from Boston back to Buffalo in a rental car, and I remember thinking I was very happy I was still serving. Little did I know that the events of 9/11 would transform the NG overnight into an optempo that resembled being back on Active Duty.Framed_steward_ett_af_3

Currently I am the team 1SG of an Embedded Training Team serving in Afghanistan, which advises, mentors and fights alongside the Afghanistan National Army. Even though my team is small and all senior ranking officers and NCOs, they are still my soldiers. Many are older than me and they all have years of experience, but I am their 1SG and it is my job to look out after them, their welfare, safety and training. The Team Chief and I have made it our sole mission to bring all these guys back alive. Regardless of what happens over here and what good we do with the ANA, as long as we bring these boys back then this mission will have been a success.

I am not sure how much longer I will serve after this tour, as my 20 year date is coming up in a few months. I may call it quits and turn the reins over to someone else, or maybe hang around a little while longer. Either way, it has been a good ride and something I will never regret. I have been blessed with a great upbringing, great family, lovely wife and kids, awesome friends all over the world and some of the best damn soldiers I could have ever served with. Regardless of what path I take after this tour is over, my military career has been a fruitful and successful one as far as I am concerned. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without it, except to know it would not have been as fulfilling.

Editor's note: A Sandbox salute to 1SG Steward as he and his team journey home. This post originally appeared on the You Served Blog at; reprinted with permission.


1SG Steward,
This is why we are so proud of our military! Thankyou for you service and thank your family!
Your son who is now in the military will be in our thoughts and prayers.
Good luck in what may be next for you! Thankyou again!!

Hey, Troy, were you were LRSD 1st Cav?

Fascinating account. It's great to be able to do what you love and to serve and protect others while doing it. Good luck and welcome home.

Wow - thats an incredible story. Its almost exactly my story, except for one small decision that you made and I didnt.
I was born on a SAC base in upstate New York in 1969 to a military family - both parents were in the Navy, and my father was career military.
Like all military brats, I've got The List - Norfolk, Okinawa, Hawaii, Utah - and I both hated and loved the military.
I went to a public NJROTC in St. Louis, and at 17 I wanted to blow shit up - I was gonna join the Army. I wanted to be a tanker in an Abrams, or the gunner in an Apache (you dont need 20/20 vision to be the gunner) - but the Army recruiting station screwed around with me, and ultimatly I ended up in the Coast Guard as an Electronics Technician.
I did my four, and that was that.
When I read your story, I thought "You know, that could have been me. If I'd made just one decision different."
I dont regret the decision, and I'm proud of my service - my war stories involve 30' seas off Cape Hateras - but sometimes I wonder how things would have been different.
Thanks for posting, and thank you for serving!

Nice 'Air Force gloves' in that one Desert Storm shot!

After reading your blog, I am glad you are serving our country. I decided to read your blog by your title “Why I Serve”. I was interested in why someone would want to serve in the army, so I clicked on your blog. I was amazed at how dedicated you seemed to being in the army and all the things you had to do leading up to where you are now. I can imagine how life is like while in the army and I know it’s really difficult at times. I am amazed at how many years you have been doing what you do, and want to still continue. I think you can do anything you want in life if you have already been serving for 20 years. It seems like it is something that you have always wanted to do with your life since you were a little kid growing up. It’s self-assuring knowing that there are soldiers like you serving our country. I know that life is hard where ever you are stationed but you know we are all behind you. All you soldiers that are fighting for the United States are heroes. Heroes that are the reason why we are proud to be American, and to have a army that serves and fights as much and as hard as you do. I want to thank you for all you have done and all you are doing. I wish you the best of luck in whatever endeavors you encounter and thank you again.

I have read exactly what you have stated. It seems that you have been in the military for awhile. I’m doing this for a final project for my English class. I’m currently attending California State University Northridge, in Los Angeles, CA. We have an age difference, obviously, but I believe that we are a little alike. You stated that your father was strict. I found myself in the exact situation when I was younger. My father is stationed at Ft. Carson, Co currently. He has been in for 29 years now, and I could always remember living in a very strict household. I know exactly how it felt. I used to hate it, but today I wouldn’t change anything. I believe that I have become a stronger individual over the last few years, and because my father has been in the military I think that the experiences I have encountered have made me a stronger person. You seem to have alot of pictures taken in Iraq, INTRESTING. My father would always bring home pics of friends etc. Now he is putting his retirement paper work in. I've always thought about joining, but never did it. I think that i was just tired of moving constantly. Today after not wanting to move anymore though, i cant seem to sit still. I hate being in one place and i still wish i had the opportunity to support our country and move around the great parts of the world. I support you all in Iraq and hope for the best. Stay safe, and thanks for being there for us. Take Care

Chris Van Dyke

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