Face of Defense: Reservist Marks 40 Years of Service
By Army Staff Sgt. Lesley Waters
Special to American Forces Press Service
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti, July 28, 2009 Richard Nixon became the 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 Catharine Zeta-Jones, Brett Favre, Renee Zellweger and Jennifer Aniston were born. The year was 1969.
Army Brig. Gen. Chris Leins, Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa deputy commander, presents Army Sgt. Maj. Samuel Stoner with the Legion of Merit Medal for exceptionally meritorious service during his 40-year career of service, July 21, 2009. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse Awalt
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
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 [to be promoted to] 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, Pa., native credits his long career to his first brigade command sergeant major at Fort Riley, Kan. 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, … 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.
Stoner is neither the first nor the 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," he said.
Stoner added that his older brother, Barry, a retired Army master sergeant, was – and still is – an inspiration.
"My brother has always been an inspiration and an example for me to follow throughout my military career," he 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 said he has seen quite a change in the military in his 40 years of service, especially in attitudes and professionalism from the Cold War and Vietnam War era to Desert Storm and the present day.
"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.”
Today's servicemembers, he added, have the advantage of technology that allows them to be better equipped and educated to meet the modern challenges. They also have more support on the home front, he said.
“Today, we find soldiers fighting on multiple fronts and returning home to welcome home ceremonies and cheering crowds across the entire country," Stoner said.
Though he’s proud of his 40-year career, Stoner said, it hasn’t been 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 service. After serving nearly a year here, he will return to his home unit in St. Louis before retiring to his home in Pennsylvania.
(Army Staff Sgt. Lesley Waters serves in the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa public affairs office.)