Face of Defense: Soldier Trains Others to Move Past Fear
By Army Sgt. Whitney Houston
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP TAJI, Iraq, Sept. 4, 2008 Army Staff Sgt. Lonny Steele helps his fellow soldiers succeed in one of the most difficult forms of warfare: close-combat fighting.
Army Staff Sgt. Lonny Steele demonstrates a bent arm bar on Army Spc. Daniel Randall during a combatives class at Camp Taji, northwest of Baghdad, Aug. 27. They are assigned to the 25th Infantry Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 225th Brigade Support Battalion. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Whitney Houston
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
As the combatives instructor for the 25th Infantry Division’s 225th Brigade Support Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Steele trains soldiers to overcome the many physical and psychological barriers associated with close combat.
“He helps soldiers overcome what psychologists call the universal human phobia, which is doing violence upon another human – especially in hand-to-hand combat,” said Army Lt. Col. Mark Collins, of Phoenix, commander of 225th BSB. “If you look at the difficulty of killing in proximity to distance, the closer you get, the more difficult it becomes to do violence to another human being, and he helps bridge that psychology gap through his close-combat training.”
Steele, of Honolulu, said he gains a sense of pride and accomplishment by sharing his knowledge with fellow soldiers in his weekly combatives class.
“I like training the soldiers,” he said. “A lot of them come here with the attitude that they don’t want to learn it, or that it’s boring. But by the end of the day, they are glad that they came – and they can’t wait to come back next week – and I like that I can give something back to the soldiers.”
And his students appreciate the skills and techniques Steele teaches. “Sergeant Steele’s leadership style always motivates soldiers and drives them to be the best,” said Army Spc. Daniel Randall of Chicago, who is assigned to the 225th BSB. “He leads by example, and he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.”
Steele strives to teach soldiers in such a way that they can then help each other. “I don’t expect them to just learn the moves,” he said. “They have to learn to be the trainer for other soldiers.”
Besides teaching combatives, Steele also serves as Collins’s personal security detachment noncommissioned officer in charge.
“He’s an outstanding [NCO], and he enables me to do a lot of things,” Collins said. “He keeps me out of trouble when we are dismounted during operations.”
As if those two jobs weren’t enough, Steele’s strong Polynesian roots have landed him doing a lot of artistic tribal woodwork for his battalion as well.
“I got started doing woodwork when we performed a dance called Toa O Taji, which translates from Samoan to ‘Warriors of Taji,’” Steele said. “So, I made the tribal sticks, and they liked them. From there, I branched off to warrior weapons, picture frames and whatever you can think of.”
Regardless of the heavy workload, Steele said, he feels privileged to have gained his knowledge through the military and looks to a bright future.
“I was fortunate to go to all of these schools and be certified in different things,” he said. “I’m very happy where I am.”
(Army Sgt. Whitney Houston serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 25th Infantry Division’s 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team).