Face of Defense: Martial Artist Takes Break to Serve Nation
By Marine Corps Cpl. Marco Mancha
2nd Marine Division
COMBAT OUTPOST CASTLE, Afghanistan, Dec. 30, 2011 Marine Corps Cpl. Justin Stewart’s childhood was spent moving all over the United States with his mother. Fortunately, he didn’t let the constant relocating deter him from his love of flying kicks and fast strikes.
Marine Corps Cpl. Justin Stewart is a professional martial artist who joined the Marine Corps to see the world. He’s now serving as an infantry noncommissioned officer for the civil affairs team attached to 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Marco Mancha
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Stewart, a professional martial artist, took a break from the fighting world of taekwondo to serve his country as a U.S. Marine.
Stewart was born in Augusta, Ga., but because of his mother’s occupation as a traveling nurse, moved two years later. His mother was required to move wherever her specialties were needed.
It was in Jackson, Miss., where 5-year-old Justin would attend his first martial arts class. His mother signed him up once she saw Stewart’s determination to learn the sport.
“Growing up I had an older brother who I always looked up to, and I was only 5 when he started out,” Stewart explained. “I begged my mother to put me into it. So she did, knowing I was trying to follow in big brother’s footsteps.”
His older brother stopped attending classes after a while, but Stewart stuck with it and fell in love with the sport. He practiced for hours a day and his skills improved quickly.
At age 13 he moved with his family about two hours east of Jackson to Meridian. There he found the International Taekwondo Alliance, a group of Taekwondo schools determined to empower member instructors and students to enrich their personal, artistic and professional lives through traditional taekwondo training.
He began training with the ITA and took his calling to the next level by becoming a certified martial arts instructor. Stewart and his mother continued to move throughout the country, but his martial arts studies remained consistent.
“It was an escape for me, it kept me busy, and I made a lot of friends anywhere I traveled,” he said.
By age 16, Stewart was a second-degree black belt and even studied taekwondo abroad in South Korea, where the art form was born and established. He balanced martial arts and school upon his return, became a third-degree black belt, and spent a year teaching taekwondo full-time in California after graduating high school in 2006.
Thirteen years of sticking to what he loved, Stewart thought it was time for him to see the world. A trip to the recruiter’s office and some influence from his older brother, who was in the Marine Corps at the time, aided his decision to join.
“He was really excited when I told him I was going to take that next step and become a Marine,” he recalled. “I’m glad I did it because I actually got to see the world just as I had hoped.”
Stewart did in fact get to see the world on his first deployment with the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He deployed as a professional instructor gunman with the Scout Sniper Platoon attached to Battalion Landing Team 1/1.
Now 23, Stewart is on his second deployment and is serving in a special billet as an infantry noncommissioned officer for the civil affairs team attached to 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. He is tasked with being the specialist in leading, planning and organizing patrols for the CAT when they conduct business throughout the unit’s area of operation in Afghanistan.
“His role is to provide the team a subject-matter expert on all things related to infantry, and this is invaluable due to our constant dismounted patrolling operations,” said Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Andrew McGann, a Longmont, Colo., native and assistant team leader with the CAT. “He is always the first to volunteer for a patrol and convoy operations. Corporal Stewart has displayed unwavering motivation through our deployment.”
Stewart said he hopes to continue his taekwondo career in the future, but is taking it one step at a time and focusing his attention on school and his Marine Corps profession.