By James BrabenecMay 9, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla., May 9, 2019 -- In his 10 years as an Army officer, Capt. Steven Haley said whenever any of his Soldiers come to him expressing an intent to leave the service, he offers up the same question:
"What's your plan?"
Haley, the special projects officer for the Office of the Chief of Air Defense Artillery, practically followed a roadmap to get where he is today.
In 1997 Haley began college and played basketball for a small private school in Oregon. Since the school didn't award him a scholarship, he knew he wouldn't be able to pay for college on his own. So, in 1998 he raised his right hand and served his country. As for which service he would enlist in, for Haley it was "Anchors Aweigh."
"The reason I chose the Navy is they offered me the most money for college -- $60,000," he said.
He said it was a good experience and that he gained some discipline and a greater respect for authority.
"Being from the Northwest, people don't say sir or ma'am," said Haley, who added it's now something he says to everybody. "The Navy definitely matured me quite a bit faster than if I had stayed in college."
Nearing the end of his enlistment, Haley experienced the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
"I was stationed at the Pentagon the entire time I was in Washington, D.C., working as a yeoman for a three-star admiral," he said.
Working the night shift, Haley was away from the Pentagon, but his roommate worked that day in a job that took him all over the facility. Haley's roommate was killed in the suicide attack.
A few months later as his enlistment drew to a close, Haley said the admiral he worked for expressed his appreciation for his hard work by offering Haley a duty station anywhere in the world, a hometown recruiting job, or even an appointment to Annapolis if he would re-enlist.
But, Haley chose to stay true to his plan and turned it all down.
"I was proud to serve, but I had no intention of staying in the Navy," he said.
Instead he returned home, enrolled in the University of Oregon, and completed his bachelor's degree to become the first member of his family to earn a college diploma.
"That was really important to me," he said.
Haley then went to work in the private sector until 2009, but said he found it too self-focused.
"From the day I got out I missed the camaraderie and esprit de corps, missed the relationships, and the team aspect of military service," he said.
Talking with recruiters from each service, Haley said the Army best fit his personality.
He reported to Fort Benning, Ga., for his 12-week Officer Candidate School (OCS), bypassing basic training thanks to his Navy background. Recalling his thoughts after graduating OCS and receiving his commission as a second lieutenant Haley said, "You feel pretty cool, though little do you know you're just like an E-1 in a big officer world, a private among officers. Still, I felt it was a bigger accomplishment for me because I was a enlisted Sailor, but now an Army officer."
Haley was assigned to armor and stayed there through an assignment to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., which included a deployment to Afghanistan. Three years into his new career, he was reassigned into air defense artillery as a 14A Air Defense Officer.
"I think my experience as an armor officer gave me more of a maneuver, combat arms awareness that will only help me as an air defense officer," he said.
Haley said he likes the Army because it's the biggest service and offers the most opportunity regardless of what rank a Soldier holds.
"Whether enlisted or an officer, whatever your race is, sexual orientation, gender, or economic background, when you come in everyone is on equal footing," he said. "It's how much do you want to put into it and how hard do you want to work. The sky is the limit in the military, you just have to keep performing."
Haley's performance earned him and a few other company grade officers a look at serving as the aide to Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill commanding general.
"There's a distinct difference when you're enlisted talking with a flag officer, compared to being an officer in that situation," he said. "There's a lot less pressure if you're enlisted."
During his interview with Shoffner Haley said he was very relaxed and at peace with whatever the outcome would be. Still, the job would require him to work long hours and travel frequently.
So did he want it?
"Of course, it's a career opportunity. You get to meet a lot of people, see a lot of things," he said. "And, it's only going to help me whether for major, lieutenant colonel, or colonel. I definitely wanted it."
Haley said he was with his wife when he received a call from Shoffner asking if he would like to be his aide, to which he replied with an emphatic, "Yes, sir."
He set to his duties with the same mindset that's helped him anywhere he's been. "I like to do good and make my bosses look good. If they look good, we all look good."
When it came time to move to his current position, Shoffner surprised the captain and said he once was an aide, too, though with a result a little less than what Haley received.
"He knows how hard of a job it is, and for him to understand the position and say I did a better job than him, it made it feel really good," said Haley. "I'm not the smartest guy, I just try hard."
Haley's next stop will be as the executive officer (XO) for Col. Mark Holler, the new ADA commandant. He will serve for about three months until the in-bound officer slotted for the XO job arrives. After that Haley will become an ADA Basic Officer Leader Course instructor.
"It's a big deal to be picked to be an instructor because you have a lot of influence," said Haley, who added when he was a lieutenant he didn't get much mentorship. "When I became a battery commander, I mentored my lieutenants as much as they wanted. You need that, need to know what you're doing wrong and what you're doing well."
Haley hopes to continue to perform and make his leaders' goals his own. Should it all work out, he'd like to do at least 25 years active-duty service.
"I've been very lucky -- luck and timing," he said. "When you get an opportunity, though, you must capitalize on it, but stay humble. If you work hard and take care of your Soldiers, they will take care of you."