Face of Defense: ‘Snake Man’ Embodies Humor
By Army Spc. Spencer Case
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan, Feb. 22, 2010 Army Staff Sgt. Steven C. Staley, an information network analyst for the 580th Signal Company here, is known for his selfless volunteerism and his sense of humor.
Army Staff Sgt. Steven C. Staley is known at Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan, for his selfless volunteerism and his sense of humor. He earned the nickname “Snake Man” from Afghan vendors after a prank he pulled involving a lengthy fuel hose and an empty sand bag. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Spencer Case
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
But most of all, he is known by the Afghan vendors of the local bazaar as ‘Snake Man’ for a beautifully executed prank he pulled at the beginning of his deployment in August.
Each time he visited the bazaar, Staley would ask the vendors if they could catch a cobra for him. He told them he wanted to take a picture of one with its hood spread.
“They all agreed the second trip I went out there that they couldn’t do it,” said Staley, an avid hunter and a member of the Choctaw Indian tribe who calls Seminole, Okla., his home. “But they pointed to the hills, north of us I guess, and said, ‘If you go over there, you can catch one.’”
Staley told the vendors he’d try to catch a cobra while on a patrol the following week. “And that’s when I started cooking up this little plan,” he said.
Staley found an empty sand bag and placed a curled segment of a rubber fuel hose inside it. With some clever acting, he convinced the vendors that he had a live cobra inside.
“I held the sandbag away from my body just to give them the impression I had really caught one,” Staley said. “And they saw me coming, and they were like, ‘Sergeant Staley, you got one? You got a cobra?’ and I said, ‘Well, yeah, but I didn’t catch it,’ because they already knew I was scared of them. So, when I got closer to them, two of them started backing away and the other two put their hands on the top of the sandbag, because they didn’t want me to open it up.”
As the vendors began to communicate frantically in Pashtu, the joke culminated in Staley’s reaching his hand into the bag, pretending to get bit, and throwing the hose up. Two of the vendors screamed and a third began backpedaling in his sandals, kicking up rocks and dirt as he went. Two U.S. soldiers watching the performance from a distance said if it had been caught on video it would have become a YouTube classic.
Now, as soon as Staley steps into the gate of the bazaar area he hears, “Snake Man, come over here!” he said.
Staley stands out in his unit not only for his antics, but for his strong sense of duty to others. Staley said he is proud to be a part of a unit that fosters a volunteer-friendly command environment, and that he follows the examples of Army Lt. Col. Ivan Montanez, the commander of the 25th Signal Battalion, and others in lending a helping hand.
When the first sergeant of the combat surgical hospital sent out a request for help during mass-casualty events, Staley answered the call. Now, Staley can be found at the hospital during every such event, helping the medics prepare for the incoming patients. Following the Dec. 31 attack on the CIA compound at Combat Outpost Chapman, Staley stayed behind to clean the stretchers and stretcher carts.
“If I can do that -- bring in the wounded -- that frees up the medical people to do the patching and repairing. I can do that, [and] it’s going to save somebody’s life,” he said.
Staley also spends a few hours a week as a scribe for A Company, 405th Civil Affairs Battalion, which meets with local Afghans who want to discuss grievances and request humanitarian assistance. Staley said he believes that volunteering is the right thing to do and that it’s contagious. Already, three noncommissioned officers from his unit have started volunteering with him, he noted.
“That’s my deal, to challenge NCOs and soldiers alike to volunteer at something,” Staley said. “It makes the time go by over here faster and it gives you a good feeling.”
Staley joined the active-duty Army in 1990 and became an Oklahoma National Guardsman in 1994. In his civilian career, he was a policeman in Seminole from 1995 to 2001 before he went into the Active Guard Reserves. Staley enjoyed his job in the Reserves but was discontented because circumstances had separated him from his two children, who live in Regensburg, Germany. So, last year he decided to take a gamble and return to active duty in the hopes that he would eventually end up in Germany.
It’s beginning to look as if his gamble is going to pay off, as his request for duty in Germany has been approved.
Staley said he looks forward to seeing his children when his deployment ends in July. He plans to stay in the Army until his 20-year mark and beyond, he said, because he loves it. He also is nearing completion of his Bachelor of Science degree in ethics and management.
“The man doesn’t think about himself — ever,” said Army 2nd Lt. Kevin Kirk, a direct signal support team officer in charge in the 580th Signal Company. “He’s a very funny guy; he keeps things light around here. We’re very lucky to have him here.”
(Army Spc. Spencer Case serves with the 304th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)