Behind the Scars: Scott Stephenson
It's only after you've lost everything," Tyler says, "that you're free to do anything."
~Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, Chapter 8
Life's greatest lessons do not come from passive observation but rather from passionate action. When you meet someone as passionate at Sgt. Robert William Scott Stephenson it's difficult to forget. He wears a devilish grin as the perfect accessory to his trendy clothes. His sparkling blue eyes do
little to hide the infectious mischief of his personality.
When he turns on
the charm he is impossible to resist, and he knows it. Scott, or Hollywood
as he's been nicknamed, walks into the room with a confident saunter.
Walking for Scott is a miracle many believed would never happen again, but
Scott is quick to point out miracles are about the perseverance and hard
work of dedicated people making a difference, not blind faith that the
impossible is possible. For Scott the achievements of his recovery are
about overcoming fear, prejudice and even depression. From the moment he
learned of his deployment to Iraq in 2006 the fear of the unknown and
unknowable set in. "Nobody talked about the fear factor," he admits. "Nobody talked about what might happen over there. How we might get hurt, what might
happen to us, we were just worried about going over there doing our job,
taking care of each other and getting home."
Scott is not shy about telling his story in great detail with language as
colorful as himself- he was conscious up until the moment he was taken from
the Medivac helicopter into his first surgery where he flat lined twice.
The pieces he has lost to time and healing are easily shaded in by his
mother Luana Schneider who tenaciously battles the unseen forces against his
recovery on a daily basis. Luana has been by his side from the moment he
landed on American soil fighting the battles Scott was too weak to endure.
His story is her story and is the story of countless others who sacrificed
life and limb in defense of our country. Since Scott's attack Luana has
diligently kept a record of his recovery through her blog- My-son-and-I where she has recounted the daily achievements and setbacks of the last
Scott's "death" in Iraq , the "death" of her son several times at Ft. Sam Houston, has affected
them both in ways more profound than anyone could understand, but neither
Scott nor Luana see divine intervention in it aside from the ever present
bond of strength that has developed between them. "Good things have
happened since I got hurt, but it's because of what I and my family have
made of them, this didn't happen for a reason that I can think of though,"
he confides. "I've learned resilience, that I'm a lot stronger than I ever
thought I could be- that my family is stronger than I ever thought they
could be... everyone put aside their differences to help me get through
this- it's not just been me, me, me- everybody came together to get me
But that day in Iraq was Scott and Scott alone who was severely injured,
which, not surprisingly to those who've experienced war first hand, fills him
with guilt. "One of the strongest feelings I had was just needing to know
my guys were okay," his speech slows down as he fights back fresh tears; but
quickly covers with a knowing laugh. "Then wanting to go back regardless of
my condition- it was like I wasn't done, like I had abandoned my friends and
here I am almost dead and I feel guilty because I left them out there
without anyone to watch their back."
His condition was grave from the reports his family received just hours
after the attack, he'd died twice before reaching the USA, suffered several strokes, his left arm
was nearly amputated leaving both arm and hand incapacitated, third and
fourth degree burns over 66% of his body, an amputated left leg, internal
injuries and very little hope of recovery in those first few weeks.
ripped through the rear passenger seat where Scott had just lit a cigarette;
he remembers taking a drag just before he realized he was on fire from the
explosion that covered him in gasoline and diesel fuel. Kicking out the
vehicle door and attempting to stop, drop and roll while covered in both
gasoline and diesel fuel had little affect. Scott remembers the medic- his
friend Doc, coming from another vehicle and covering him with a fire
blanket. His body suppressed the sensations of pain to the point that he
didn't realize how bad it was until he saw the faces of his squad members.
Everyone survived with minor injuries, aside from Scott. He pauses as the
emotions of that day come forward, "What I do remember is Lou looking at me
and him telling me I was going to be alright," he is silent for a moment as
the tears well up in his eyes. As he continues the emotions of that moment
become an inescapable reality. "But by the look on his face I knew I wasn't
going to be okay. I don't know how I would have felt if I were on the other
side... I'm thankful I don't have to remember what it was like seeing my
friend there in that condition. I don't know what they see when they close
their eyes... probably worse than what I see."
With a sense of kinship to those who have also sacrificed so much for the
love of our country Luana and Scott founded Tempered Steel. Their intention
is to educate the public so the fear, the ignorance and the prejudice
associated with wounds as severe as Scott's are understood. For Scott and
Luana the importance of education through Tempered Steel, is about telling
their story and all of the stories behind the scars.
Scott makes no
apologies for his anger that comes from dealing with the average person's
ignorance. He has been asked if his injuries were from a car accident or a
house fire, which to him and those who've suffered is the equivalent to a
slap in the face. "It is important to me that they know I went over there
to do whatever my country asked of me," Scott explains. "I'm not asking
people to come up to me and say, thank you for your sacrifice or thank you
for what you've done- but I want people to understand I did what they
couldn't. I look in the mirror now and I see that I'm not the same person I
was- that's tough for me. Tempered Steel is about breaking down those
barriers where people are afraid to be around us, make them see us for who
we really are instead of crispy fried monsters."
Scott's temper flashes easily when he recall's people's reaction to his
appearance. He describes people rudely staring at him or falling over
objects trying to avoid staring. He struggles with the loss of his old way
of life and the limitations of his new life. Every moment of his recovery
has been a struggle undertaken by himself, his family and the friends who
have come to his aide. It is in that struggle that he has found his passion.
He knows he didn't do all of this alone, he gives credit to his mother's
tenacity which he's inherited and he knows better than anyone what it takes
to survive. This sense of survival and perhaps the guilt of surviving fuels
his passion to help others like him.
Watching his recovery over the last
several years makes one believe that miracles do happen, until Scott reminds
you that we make our own miracles. He knows that losing everything has
indeed allowed him the freedom to do anything and he wastes no time in
accomplishing the impossible for the deserving few. As his mother Luana
says it best, "These guys are my heroes, and they deserve to be recognized
for doing what no one else could."
More of Scott's story and many other wounded veterans' stories will appear in a traveling gallery to raise funds for a book detailing the stories behind the scars. The stories will also be send to the Library of Congress for preservation.