By Maj. David MattoxSeptember 13, 2012
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska (Sept. 13, 2012) -- Sgt. Stephen Stoops, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, July 23, for his selfless actions on a small base in southern Afghanistan which saved the lives of two Soldiers in January 2012.
Stoops is a mild-mannered young man from Port Orchard, Wash. He married his sweetheart, Amanda, and together they are raising their son Joshua, 4.
Two years after his son was born, Stoops found himself struggling to make ends meet, working as a mechanic and trying to raise a family.
"I came from a military family and I've always wanted to serve my country," Stoops said.
When Stoops enlisted in the Army, the thought never entered his mind that he would find himself on a small dusty outpost in Afghanistan called Forward Operating Base Eagle, and he did not expect to be receiving the Bronze Star for valor.
On Jan. 8, 2012, Stoops along with a group of other Soldiers from the 1-24th, were playing football during some downtime, when a hail of gunfire interrupted their game.
"The first thought that went through my head was to find cover," Stoops recalled.
In the first seconds of the shooting, Stoops tried to make sense of what was going on and discovered that two of his fellow Soldiers, Pvt. 1st Class John Bolan and Pvt. 1st Class Dustin Napier were wounded and laying on the field.
Stoops recalls seeing the assailant dressed in an Afghan Army uniform and shooting a rifle in his direction.
"I ran back toward the [entry control point] when I saw Sergeant Lewis pushing back onto the soccer field with a weapon he had taken from one of the 1-14 Cav. [entry control point] guards," Stoops said.
Sgt. Jacob Lewis was first to respond to the attack. But he did not have to wait long for support, as Stoops was quick to find a weapon and join in the defense of their fallen comrades.
"I couldn't let him go back out there by himself not knowing what else was out there," Stoops said. "When we linked up we decided to flank the enemy and bound toward our wounded Soldiers."
The Bronze Star Medal citation for which Stoops was awarded reads, "For exceptionally valorous service during Operation Enduring Freedom. His heroic actions and complete disregard for his own safety during an enemy attack on Forward Operating base Apache in Afghanistan saved the lives of his fellow Soldiers. His bravery is in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects distinct credit upon himself, Task Force Arctic Wolves, Regional Command South, and the United States Army."
Stoops and Lewis were able to kill the enemy gunman and move to the fallen U.S. Soldiers. Napier died from his injuries in that attack and Bolan is still receiving treatment for his injuries.
"I want people to remember that [Dustin Napier] was an outstanding Soldier, husband, brother, son, and friend who paid the ultimate sacrifice. He was kindhearted and always had a smile on his face," Stoops said. "I will never forget Napier; he has touched my life."
It takes a certain measure of courage to leave the civilian life and join the Army with a wife and kid. It takes even more than that to earn a valorous medal in combat.
Stoops is one of 92 Soldiers of the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division who earned medals for valor during this recent deployment, including Lewis, who was recommended for the Silver Star for his actions.
Before the attack on FOB Eagle, Stoops was a team leader in charge of four Soldiers. He played a critical role in Operation Fairbanks in Zabul Province where U.S. forces helped secure and construct a major roadway in the district. The operation drove the insurgents out and allowed local merchants and farmers to take their goods to the market.
Charged with securing the roadwork teams, and maintaining security throughout the course of the operation, Stoops has also been recognized by his supervisors as a consistently competent and dependable noncommissioned officer.
What drives a person like Stoops to put his own life in danger?
"The relationship we have with our battle buddies is that everyone is family," Stoops explained. "It doesn't matter what someone says or has done. Your 'battles' will always have your back."
Though the war in Afghanistan is winding down, he plans to continue to serve in the Army and train his Soldiers for the next mission, whatever that may be.
"I love my job and training my Soldiers," he said.