ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Maryland – A Master Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician was selected for the U.S. Army command sergeant major program.
Sgt. Maj. Stephen P. Cunningham will become the senior enlisted leader for the Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-headquartered 3rd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), which commands six Army EOD companies stationed in Washington State, California and West Texas.
A seasoned combat veteran, Cunningham previously served as the sergeant major supporting the Secretary of the General Staff at the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command, the U.S. Department of Defense’s premier all hazards formation. From 19 bases in 16 states, Soldiers and civilians from 20th CBRNE Command take on the world’s most dangerous hazards in support of military operations and civil authorities.
During his 22 years in the Army, Cunningham has deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina once, Iraq three times and Afghanistan three times.
Cunningham became an EOD technician in 2007 after serving as an OH-58 D Kiowa Warrior Helicopter crew chief. After eight years in the Army, Cunningham decided that he would rather defeat explosives devices than work on helicopters.
“Although repairing helicopters was a rewarding career, I didn’t feel that I reached my potential, I wanted more from my Army career,” said Cunningham.
Since then, Cunningham has conducted hundreds of EOD missions clearing explosive hazards and conducting sensitive site exploitation in support of combat operations as well as U.S. Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.
He became a Master EOD technician in 2015.
“Among my most memorable missions was a deployment to Kuwait and Afghanistan in 2018 with the 242nd Ordnance Battalion (EOD),” said Cunningham, a native of West Covina, California. “Our battalion was tasked to combine the responsibilities of two battalions and establish Task Force Hellhound.”
He said the improvised explosive device-focused EOD task force had a wide span of influence that supported intelligence agencies from multiple nations as well as U.S. Federal and state law enforcement agencies.
Cunningham earned two Bronze Stars from his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sergeant major credits many people with his success, including the Lt. Col. Jeffrey Goble, the former commander of Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. Goble told him the key to success was to “be where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing, to the best of your ability and you’ll never go wrong.”
“Those words, coupled with my grandfather’s work ethic, have ensured that I have worked to my greatest capacity on every task I complete,” said Cunningham, emphasizing the key role his family has played in his development. “My uncle, Douglas Doney, has shown me the power of just being there with someone shows you care. My father, Michael Cunningham, has been my example to learn and build on my intellect. Finally, my wife, Justine Meyer, helped develop my leadership and communication skills to reach beyond my own generation.”
As a leader, Cunningham has focused on accomplishing the mission and developing his Soldiers. He has been a supporter of the “people first” approach to leadership long before it became an Army initiative. The sergeant major also likes to paraphrase President Theodore Roosevelt’s mantra that “no one cares about what you know until they know that you care.”
“Respect is the first step to earning someone’s trust,” said Cunningham. “This is true for seniors, peers and subordinates. I argue respect is given not earned and therefore respect is nothing more than a reflection of one’s character.
“I didn’t strive to become a command sergeant major because I wanted to do a job,” said Cunningham. “I did it because I truly care for the men and women that I have had and will have the opportunity to positively influence.”