The shock of learning of Jon’s death has worn off a bit. I called a mutual friend, a retired Master Sergeant who now works as a representative for a company that sells systems to the Army, the one who introduced me to Jon Stiles. They had been next door neighbors in Dayton before Jon had moved with his wife, Launa, back to Colorado. I asked if he had heard about Jon. He hadn’t, and I became the bearer of bad tidings. Jeff was shocked. We spoke only briefly before he had to go, but he promised to call me back this weekend.
We spoke together about how Jeff’s kids cried to find out about Jon’s death. We talked about Jon and how much effort he put into getting downrange. We talked about how hard Jon had to work to get back into the service. Jon sought out his service, he struggled to get back in. He jumped through many hoops, he ran into walls, he ran into lazy people who didn’t want to do their jobs, he ran into bureaucracy and botched paperwork. Jeff and I talked about how Jon kept his purpose in mind and never quit.
I walk among people here in the United States, which I’ve seen a lot of in the past few days as I’ve traveled hundreds of miles by road, and I wonder about the people I see. I see people who are too busy living their lives, too interested in their careers, having too good a time to give serious thought to putting themselves into harm’s way for our country. I have seen tens of thousands of people in the past three days. I have seen easily several thousand able-bodied men having their weekend and as I’ve driven around Florida during Spring Break time, the contrast is so clear to me.
Jon’s story needs to be told. Jon Stiles is such a strong example of the type of man this country produces in small numbers. Even among the members of the military, Jon stands out. Jon was not ordered to go. Jon marched towards the sound of the guns. He sought to do as much as he could. He worked so hard to lay his life on the line.
When I met Jon, he was not a member of the military. Jon had been a Marine and had served on active duty in the Army, but he had been out of the service for years. He had been injured and he had had surgery on his back. Jon wanted to serve, but he had spoken to recruiters like Mr. Jones, an MPRI contracted recruiter in the Dayton area, who couldn’t be bothered with a tough accession. Jon had been blown off. He believed that he couldn’t get back in, though he desperately wanted to serve, to do what he saw as his part.
As we worked together, helping National Guardsmen from Tennessee and Pennsylvania get ready to go to Iraq during their predeployment at Camp Shelby, MS, Jon and I became fast friends. We shared an apartment in Hattiesburg and in our off time we often played golf together. Jon had brought a PS2 game system, and when the weather was poor he taught me to play “Tiger Woods Golf.” It took me nearly a month to become a worthy adversary, but Jon demonstrated the patience of a saint.
Jon saw me taking phone calls related to deployments that I was seeking, and he asked me for advice on how to handle getting back in uniform. I did my best to be helpful, but Jon did the work. He began a quest that would span over a year and three separate states to get back into the service.
Jon became frustrated with the family business, and he and his wife sold their home in Dayton and moved back to Colorado. Launa’s family was there, and while she had sacrificed being close to her family so that Jon could be part of the business, when he decided to leave the business, they decided that Colorado was the place for them to be.
While I only met Launa once or twice, Jon’s relationship with his wife was remarkable. Jon never said anything negative about his wife. He was the type of husband that every father wants for his daughter. He was thoughtful, respectful, loving, kind and he would tell anyone that Launa was his best friend. He treated her like it, too. Jon was a man’s man… because that’s the way that real men are supposed to be.
After their move back to Colorado, Jon and I spoke pretty regularly. Jon continued his pursuit of service, and finally found a recruiter who was willing to listen to him, hear his commitment to service, and put forth the effort to do the paperwork. This process took months. I’ve still got the emails that Jon and I exchanged over this time, and they span months until he finally sent me an email the day that I arrived in Afghanistan that he was raising his hand two days later.
Jon had gathered all of his medical records together and presented his case to a recruiter who was willing to go through what promised to be a lengthy process. Jon had a physical and his case was referred to a medical review board. There were so many hoops for Jon to jump through that I lost track. Most men would have quit trying. There was dismal news at every turn. Jon was repeatedly given discouraging words, but he never gave up. He never quit.
Finally, the case had to go to a General for approval. The paperwork sent for Jon initially had the wrong name on it, setting him back months. Jon’s email was ecstatic when he informed me of his impending enlistement. The email was sent the day that I arrived in Afghanistan, and showed that his efforts were not complete.
I am there man!!!!! They finally are going to let me in. I am raising my right hand this Friday morning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for all of your support and prayer’s it did help. I hope all is well in the ZONE drop me a line when you get a chance, and know that I am praying for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Keep your ass down and your eyes open brother!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I will write soon and let you know if and when I can catch a deployment.
Love you BRO
Every one of those exclamation points are his, and he was not one to use them lightly. Jon’s commitment wasn’t just to wearing that uniform, either. As you can plainly see, he fully intended to deploy.
While Jon looked into what it would take to get downrange, he worked for the Colorado Honor Guard, doing funerals for service members who had passed away. He took pride in rendering honors to those who had served their country. Here is a picture of Jon dressed for Honor Guard duty.
The unit that Jon had enlisted into had been slated to deploy to Iraq, but when that deployment was pushed back, Jon went looking for an ETT mission. Jon would have made a great ETT. His patience and maturity would have stood him in good stead, but it was not to be.
Hey Hey Hey, Brother… I wish we could have talked more when you where home,
but such as life, it was just good to hear your voice and know that you are
hanging in there. As far as ETT deployment goes that is a big fat negative,
they wont take an E-4 know matter how hard the DET COMMANDER fights for me.
He even went so far as to duke it out with Fort Riley and the powers that may
be, but to no avails. On the other hand I am still going to the STAN I am
getting deployed with the 927th Eng Co SAPPERS from Baton Rouge, L.A. I go on
three week SRP/AT in February, and then we MOB in march for a 70 day train up
at Fort McCoy Wisconsin. Then it is boots on the ground for 9 to 9 1/2 months
(probably longer), the total order package is supposed to be for 400 day’s.
The mission is a good mission! We will be on the Pakistani border doing the
route clearing mission (IED Hunting) using the Buffalo Vehicles, as well as
being the QRF for that area of OPS. Not sure exactly where on the border we
will be yet but I am sure it will all become very clear soon enough.
Jon and I never crossed paths in Afghanistan. He arrived over a month after I had left the country. We exchanged a few emails… very few. Jon was busy, his access to the internet limited, and he spent most of it on his best friend; his wife.
Jon emailed me in October, telling me that he had a broken thumb from a bad ride on bad roads behind a .50 caliber machine gun. He also had a hairline fracture to an ankle. He reveled in the fact that neither injury would keep him out of the fight. I’ve seen men beg off of missions for less. Not Jon. Shortly thereafter, I would learn recently, Jon sustained lung damage and vocal chord injuries while helping rescue two men from a burning truck after it had been struck with a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device.)
Jon was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions that day.
He was offered medical leave, but he wanted to stay with his team. Even after that, Jon was still unwilling to take the easy road. If he had taken the leave, he likely would have been stateside when the IED that took his life detonated near his vehicle on November 13th, 2008. Jon died of his wounds that day.
Andy Rooney stated recently that we have no heroes today. I’m here to tell Andy Rooney that when a man can no longer find the relevant, he himself is irrelevant. Andy Rooney has lost all relevance, because when men like Jon Stiles walk the earth, and now lie in its embrace because of what no man can deny is valor of the highest caliber, men like Andy Rooney should take notice.
Jon Stiles was not remarkable in many respects. He looked like a normal Joe. He wasn’t flamboyant, he didn’t cry out for attention, and he wasn’t a seeker of anything except service. He returned to the Army at a reduced rank without complaint. You cannot spot a hero by his looks or hear it in his words. You see it only in his actions. Jon clung to his ideals and values tenaciously, and while he laid his life on freedom’s altar willingly, you can believe that his life was not willingly forfeit. It had to be taken from him. Jon had a lot to live for.
Jon loved life. He loved his wife, his family, his friends and his country. He believed that what a man did when the chips were down was what defined him more accurately than at any other moment of his life, and he defined himself well. I am honored to have known him as I did.
There are many others who knew him for far longer. Launa Stiles, his wife, gave her husband for this country; a husband that most women only dream of. You see, Jon was one of the finest men that I have ever known. He was absolutely dedicated to his wife, and I’m sure that she knew it. She knew what she risked losing, that Jon was a one-in-a-million man. Yet, she supported him in his service. She risked all but her own life when Jon went off to war in Afghanistan. She was taken up on her wager on freedom to the fullest measure. Jon and Launa Stiles were a heroic couple. Now she must wait to see Jon again, for it will not be in this life.
On Monday, March 17th, 2009, Highlands Ranch, the town where Jon and Launa Stiles settled when they returned to Colorado, will name a street after Jon.
If anyone needs a hero, I offer them Jon Stiles.