By Staff Sergeant Lesley WatersJuly 24, 2009
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti (July 23, 2009) -- Richard Nixon became 37th president of the United States, gas cost 35 cents per gallon, the New York Mets won the World Series in five games over the Baltimore Orioles, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Brett Favre, Renee Zellweger and Jennifer Aniston were born. The year was 1969.
It was also the year Army Reserve Sgt. Maj. Samuel Stoner, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa's joint intelligence chief and senior enlisted advisor, was drafted into the military. Stoner said he never dreamed of making a career of the Army when he first got drafted.
"After serving my first two years on active duty, I just wanted to put the military behind me and get on with life," Stoner said. "Instead, I felt I had something more to offer my country and my fellow Soldiers, so I decided to continue my first six-year obligation in the Army Reserve."
It wasn't until after the end of his six-year obligation in the reserves that he decided to make the Army a career.
"My plan was E-8 at 20 years and then punch," he said. "Here I am 40 years later; who would have ever thought' Now I am looking forward to kicking my feet up and laying back in my recliner at 'Fort Living Room, Pa.'"
The Chambersburg native credits his first brigade command sergeant major at Fort Riley, Kan., for staying in so long. Each time the command sergeant major saw Stoner, he would stop and say hello or ask how his day was going.
"Even though I was intimidated by Command Master Sergeant Rainwater, I always respected him for his genuine concern for the Soldiers and I thought, if given the chance, I would like to emulate that same sense of concern," Stoner said.
The sergeant major is not the first or only person in his family to serve in the military. His father served in the Army during World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He also has a son who enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and was mobilized during Operation Desert Storm.
"Even though my son didn't make the military a career like I did, just knowing he was willing to make the sacrifice makes me proud of him for the time he served his country," Stoner said.
The Pennsylvania native, said his older brother Barry, who was also in the military and retired as an Army master sergeant was - and still is - an inspiration to Stoner.
"My brother has always been an inspiration and an example for me to follow throughout my military career," Stoner said. "I have tried to call my family at least once a week since my deployment, but I've always made a special effort to call him just to get words of encouragement from him. He has been a true brother to me in every meaning of the word."
Stoner has seen quite a change in the military in his 40 years, especially changes in attitude and professionalism from the Cold War and Vietnam era to Desert Storm and now the Global War on Terror.
"The Vietnam War created a different kind of professional through the will to survive a war, unlike the wars the U.S. fought in past years," he said. "We fought a war with valor to come home with less than a hero's welcome. The professionals of today's military has the advantage of modern technology that allows them to be better equipped and educated to meet the modern challenges. Today we find Soldiers fighting on multiple fronts and returning home to welcome home ceremonies and cheering crowds across the entire country."
One of the biggest changes the sergeant major has seen during his military career is automation. He said the Internet has to be the most influential technology of modern day history.
"I think back to the day of using carbon paper, three-part forms, electronic typewriters, mimeograph machines and copiers," Stoner said. "We were sensationalized by how much time was saved using them. Now to think how our lives have so drastically changed since the introduction of the personal computer and the ever-changing computer technology of today."
After serving nearly a year at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, as joint intelligence chief and senior enlisted advisor, Stoner will return to his home unit in St. Louis, Mo., before retiring to his home in Pennsylvania.
As Stoner reflected back on his 40-year military career, he said it was an honor to wear the uniform and serve his country, but it wasn't about him.
"To me, it has always been about 'taking care of Soldiers'," he said. "A true leader can never give enough of himself to a Soldier who has given of himself so freely to his country."
Stoner received the Legion of Merit, for his 40 years of faithful service to his country.