March 23, 2009

Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 3/23/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure

I hadn't been in touch with my old friend Jon Stiles for a while, which was not unusual. We'd emailed in October, and before that July. He was in Afghanistan, busy living his deployment. Figuring he should be coming off of active duty I'd started to wonder, and then I tried his cell phone. Still disconnected. Lots of guys shut off their phones while deployed. No big deal. Then I tried Google, and my heart broke instantly when I saw this story. Jon had been killed by a suicide bomber.

I called a mutual friend, a retired Master Sergeant who now works as a representative for a company that sells systems to the Army. He is the one who introduced me to Jon. They had been next door neighbors in Dayton, Ohio before Jon and his wife Launa moved back to Colorado. I asked if he had heard about Jon. He hadn't, and I became the bearer of bad tidings. Jeff was shocked. We spoke only briefly before he had to go, but he promised to call me back.

When he did we talked about Jon and how much effort he put into getting downrange. We talked about how hard he had to work to get back into the service. Jon sought out his service, he struggled to get back in. He jumped through many hoops, he ran into walls, he ran into lazy people who didn't want to do their jobs, he ran into bureaucracy and botched paperwork. Jeff and I talked about how Jon kept his purpose in mind and never quit.

In the past few days I've traveled hundreds of miles by road, and I wonder about the people I see. I see people who are too busy living their lives, too interested in their careers, having too good a time to give serious thought to putting themselves into harm's way for our country. In the past three days, driving around Florida during Spring Break, I have seen tens of thousands of people, including thousands of able-bodied men having their weekend.

Jon Stiles’ story needs to be told. He is such a strong example of the type of man this country produces in small numbers. Even among the members of the military, he stands out. Jon was not ordered to go. Jon marched towards the sound of the guns. He sought to do as much as he could. He worked so hard to lay his life on the line.

When I met Jon he was not a member of the military. He had been a Marine and had served on active duty in the Army, but he had been out of the service for years. He had been injured and had had surgery on his back. Jon wanted to serve again, but he had spoken to recruiters like Mr. Jones, an MPRI contracted recruiter in the Dayton area, who couldn't be bothered with a tough accession and blew Jon off. Jon believed that he couldn't get back in, though he desperately wanted to serve, to do what he saw as his part.

As we worked together, helping National Guardsmen from Tennessee and Pennsylvania get ready to go to Iraq during their pre-deployment at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, Jon and I became fast friends. We shared an apartment in Hattiesburg and in our off time we often played golf together. Jon had brought a PS2 game system, and when the weather was poor he taught me to play "Tiger Woods Golf." It took me nearly a month to become a worthy adversary; Jon demonstrated the patience of a saint.

He saw me taking phone calls related to deployments that I was seeking, and he asked for advice on how to get back in uniform. I did my best to be helpful, but Jon did the work, beginning a quest to get himself back into service that would span over a year and three separate states.

During that time Jon became frustrated with the family business, and he and his wife sold their home in Dayton and moved back to Colorado. Launa's family was there. She had sacrificed being close to her family so that Jon could be part of the business, when he decided to leave the business, they decided Colorado was the place for them to be.

I only met Launa once or twice, but Jon's relationship with her was remarkable. Jon never said anything negative about his wife. He was the type of husband that every father wants for his daughter. He was thoughtful, respectful, loving, kind and he would tell anyone that Launa was his best friend. He treated her like it, too. Jon was a man's man…because that's the way that real men are supposed to be. He could be an example of "this is how you do it right" in any pre-marriage seminar.

After their move back to Colorado, Jon and I spoke pretty regularly. He continued his pursuit of service, and finally found a recruiter who was willing to listen to him, hear his commitment to service, and put forth the effort to do the paperwork. This process took months. I've still got the emails that Jon and I exchanged over this time, and they span months until he finally sent me an email the day that I arrived in Afghanistan that he was raising his hand two days later.

Jon had gathered all of his medical records together and presented his case to a recruiter who was willing to go through what promised to be a lengthy process. Jon had a physical and his case was referred to a medical review board. There were so many hoops for Jon to jump through that I lost track.

Most men would have quit trying. There was dismal news at every turn. Jon was repeatedly given discouraging words, but he never gave up. He never quit.

Finally, the case had to go to a General for approval. The paperwork sent for Jon initially had the wrong name on it, setting him back months. Jon's email was ecstatic when he informed me of his impending enlistment. The email was sent the day that I arrived in Afghanistan, and showed that his efforts were not complete.

Hey Brother,  I am there man!!!!! They finally are going to let me in. I am raising my right hand this Friday morning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for all of your support and prayer's it did help. I hope all is well in the ZONE drop me a line when you get a chance, and know that I am praying for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Keep your ass down and your eyes open brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will write soon and let you know if and when I can catch a deployment.

Love you BRO


Every one of those exclamation points are his, and he was not one to use them lightly. Jon's commitment wasn't just to wearing that uniform, either. As you can plainly see, he fully intended to deploy.

While Jon looked into what it would take to get downrange, he worked for the Colorado Honor Guard, doing funerals for service members who had passed away. He took pride in rendering honors to those who had served their country.

Framed Old Blue Stiles

Jon dressed for Honor Guard duty.

The unit that Jon had enlisted into had been slated to deploy to Iraq, but when that deployment was pushed back, Jon went looking for an ETT mission. Jon would have made a great ETT. His patience and  maturity would have stood him in good stead, but it was not to be.

Hey Hey Hey, Brother... I wish we could have talked more when you where home, but such as life, it was just good to hear your voice and know that you are hanging in there. As far as ETT deployment goes that is a big fat negative, they wont take an E-4 know matter how hard the DET COMMANDER fights for me.

He even went so far as to duke it out with Fort Riley and the powers that may be, but to no avails. On the other hand I am still going to the STAN I am getting deployed with the 927th Eng Co SAPPERS from Baton Rouge, L.A. I go on three week SRP/AT in February, and then we MOB in march for a 70 day train up at Fort McCoy Wisconsin. Then it is boots on the ground for 9 to 9 1/2 months (probably longer), the total order package is supposed to be for 400 day's.

The mission is a good mission! We will be on the Pakistani border doing the  route clearing mission (IED Hunting) using the Buffalo Vehicles, as well as   being the QRF for that area of OPS. Not sure exactly where on the border we will be yet but I am sure it will all become very clear soon enough.

Jon and I never crossed paths in Afghanistan. He arrived over a month after I had left the country. We exchanged a few emails -- very few. Jon was busy, his access to the internet limited, and he spent most of  it on his best friend; his wife.

Jon emailed me in October, telling me that he had a broken thumb from a bad ride on bad roads behind a .50 caliber machine gun. He also had a hairline fracture to an ankle. He reveled in the fact that neither injury would keep him out of the fight. I've seen men beg off of missions for less. Not Jon. Shortly  thereafter, I would learn recently, Jon sustained lung damage and vocal chord injuries while helping rescue two men from a burning truck after it had been struck with a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device.)

Jon was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions that day.

He was offered medical leave, but he wanted to stay with his team. Even after that, Jon was still unwilling to take the easy road. If he had taken the leave, he likely would have been stateside when the IED that took his life detonated near his vehicle on November 13th, 2008. Jon died of his wounds that day.

Andy Rooney stated recently that we have no heroes today. I'm here to tell Andy Rooney that when a man can no longer find the relevant, he himself is irrelevant. When men like Jon Stiles walk the earth, and now lie in its embrace because of what no man can deny is valor of the highest caliber, men like Andy Rooney should take notice.

Jon Stiles was not remarkable in many respects. He looked like a normal Joe. He wasn't flamboyant, he didn't cry out for attention, and he wasn't a seeker of anything except service. He returned to the Army at a reduced rank without complaint. You cannot spot a hero by his looks or hear it in his words. You see it only in his actions. Jon clung to his ideals and values tenaciously, and while he laid his life on freedom's altar willingly, you can believe that his life was not willingly forfeit. It had to be taken from him. Jon had a lot to live for.

Jon loved life. He loved his wife, his family, his friends and his country. He believed that what a man does when the chips are down is what defines him more accurately than at any other moment of his life, and he defined himself well. I am honored to have known him as I did.

There are many others who knew him for far longer. Launa Stiles, his wife, gave her husband for this country; a husband that most women only dream of. You see, Jon was one of the finest men that I have ever known. He was absolutely dedicated to his wife, and I'm sure that she knew it. She knew what she risked losing, that Jon was a one-in-a-million man. Yet, she supported him in his service. She risked all but her own life when Jon went off to war in Afghanistan. She was taken up on her wager on freedom to the fullest measure. Jon and Launa Stiles were a heroic couple. Now she must wait to see Jon again, for it will not be in this life.

On Monday, March 17th, 2009, Highlands Ranch, the town where Jon and Launa Stiles settled when they returned to Colorado, will name a street after Jon.

If anyone needs a hero, I offer them Jon Stiles.

After I wrote about Jon on my website, Launa Stiles posted this:

Thank you so much for telling Jon's story. I was blessed to be his wife for eight years. He inspires me to this day. Following is more detail of Jon's last moments:

My understanding is that Jon was the gunner that day. He spotted the suspect vehicle and, by-the-book, did everything to take him out; including warning shots followed by more gunfire. The suicide bomber detonated his vehicle mounted bomb and Jon was caught in the blast. He was treated at the scene, intubated and flown by helicopter to the base hospital where he was pronounced dead. His cause of death was brain hemorrhage and shrapnel wounds to his neck and face.

The Louisiana & Colorado Army National Guard, our community, church and families have absolutely done right by us. Jon, the soldier, had a hero's homecoming and I have been well taken care of. This is not a story that can be told by other soldiers' families -- so, I am fortunate.

In the same breath, I am lost without him and struggle each day to re-discover who I am without the best part of me. I feel amputated. Military wife/widow will forever define me -- but I will spend the rest of my life fulfilling my husband's legacy of living life with purpose and passion.

 * MPRI: Military Professional Resources Inc.


40 years ago today,my unit a2/5 1st cav was dropped into a nva ambush,among the dead was my medic, ken brenner.i hope that someone was there to speak about him as movingly as you have spoken about jon.i don't know about heroes.on the line we were all brothers.right away,we went to help the one getting badly beaten.not a hero,just a brother.

This soldier sounds like one in a million but sad to say there are many more like him, who fight 'tooth and nail' to get to combat. I hope they all have such a great advocate for them in their need.

I thought that Andy Rooney just hangs around with the wrong crowd - I see heroes almost daily, but then they don't get into Andy's circles - they are too busy working on making life better for all of us. Thanks for the story, thanks for getting out to me, and don't ever forget him.

Thank you for sharing Jon Stiles with us. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. And, yes, Andy is an old fart with a microphone who has gotten careless. During the Vietnam war, when the Ed Sullivan show was on live on Sunday nights, he would read some horrendous military medal winning account and a service man would stand up in the audience to a round of applause. I felt sorry for the guy in the spotlight. To me it looked like putting his worst nightmare on view.

Maybe that is what Andy thinks we should be doing now. Hard to say. Heroes are all around us. It isn't fame that makes them so.

yeah, I dunno. It really hurts.

I come back to this site so many times just to read those who knew my brother. Thank you so much for sharing this. If you have any more stories that you are willing to share, PLEASE contact me. - natalie hopkins (stiles)

PS :: just to prove that I'm not a random nutjob, here's a link on my blog that covers my brother! http://mickiruns.wordpress.com/category/jon/

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