SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii- Lt. Col. John H. Stephenson, Tripler Army Medical Center's Chief of the Center Judge Advocate, joined the Army 22 years ago as part of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, and last month he completed the vicious five-day Jungle Operations Training Executive Course that began with a 5K jungle run completed in under 40 minutes at Schofield Barracks.
Stephenson said he signed up for the military for three reasons, "Serve my country, get into the courtroom faster than my civilian counterparts, and get paid to do cool stuff like jump out of airplanes [and] blow stuff up. Now, when I'm 50 years old, I get to go to jungle school where we learned how to survive and operate in an environment trying to kill us or at least ruin our day."
Originally from Mackinac Island, Michigan, Stephenson is a prior triathlete, and with less than a week of notice for the extreme course, he found trainers Sgt. Christopher Jones, Sgt. Glennis Kanae, and Sgt. Aryn Strickland to practice knot tying and other survival skills utilized in the jungle course.
"Their professionalism was second to none. I feel so proud and confident knowing they are the future senior leaders of the Army," said Stephenson.
Strickland was taken back by Stephenson's motivation despite his minimal time to learn the skills. "It caught me off guard with how cool he was, about everything. About learning the new stuff and simple communication," said Strickland.
Stephenson found keeping his feet healthy to be the most challenging portion of the course. "Being wet all the time created blisters which are still healing three weeks after the course," said Stephenson.
"Treat it like a marathon, not a sprint," said Strickland.
The long days and muddy trails make it difficult for soldiers. "You need to stay healthy, keep your equipment dry, keep your feet healthy and you'll make it through," said Strickland.
The first event was a test of stamina and persistence for Stephenson, "I crossed the finish line in 39:37 and promptly barfed my guts out. The instructors loved it and were grossed out at the same time."
Jungle Operations Training Course is a coveted and honorary badge because it is exclusive to the 25th Infantry Division. Although Stephenson participated in the five-day executive course, the complete mountaineering course is a 19-day physical and mental program practicing tropical operative movement, communication techniques and survival training. Skills learned and tested throughout the course are 12 critical knots, rappelling, tying harnesses and systems and a 50 meter swim in full gear among all the other elements that come with a jungle environment.
"What a great last adventure before hanging up the dog tags," said Stephenson, who is retiring summer 2020.