Citizen Soldier

Steven L. Turner grew up in Van Buren, Ind., a small farming town of less than 1,000 people, just south of Fort Wayne. From early on, this somewhat precocious young man started down a path not typical of many young kids. At the early age of 9, he drove the tractor on the farm and learned from his cousin how to track, hunt and shoot. In school, Mr. Turner challenged his teachers to teach him something he did not already know. He would later learn sign language so as to communicate with his dad, who had been injured in a car accident. While playing on the local high school football team, he became good friends and competitive rivals with Lance Thompson, who was a year older. This friendship would come to alter Mr. Turner’s future path.

Living four miles from town, Mr. Turner was the first and last kid to be picked up or dropped off for school, so he had the opportunity to become friends with Jerry Middleton, the school bus driver and a horse ranch owner. With Mr. Middleton’s encouragement and the guidance from his own experiences, Mr. Turner starting breaking horses at the age of 16 for $6 an hour and soon thereafter accepted Mr. Middleton’s challenge to ride Brahman bulls in a local rodeo. There is a saying that concludes that bull riders are among the bravest and toughest people on the planet. Far more challenging than breaking horses, Mr. Turner later came to understand the full impact of bull riding when he was on a bull named “White Zombie” in a Kan. rodeo. He suffered multiple facial fractures, a broken jaw, a collapsed right eye orbital, a broken wrist, six fractured ribs and the loss of two teeth when he was thrown by the bull.

Back in high school, his football buddy, Mr. Thompson, dropped out of football his senior year so he could focus on his training for the Marine Corps. Upon graduation, in 2001, his friend’s dream was fulfilled when he became a Marine. One year later, Mr. Turner was offered two college scholarships. One was to Purdue University to study engineering and applied physics, and another was to Oklahoma State University (OSU) for bull riding. Although all the men on Mr. Turner’s side of the family had attended Purdue, he selected OSU, where he studied engineering and physics, while participating in rodeos.

Mr. Turner’s world changed in November of 2004, after getting word that his high school friend, 21-year-old Marine Cpl. Thompson had been killed near Ramadi, Iraq, by an improvised explosive device (IED). The loss of his friend brought a different focus for his future. He wanted to take Cpl. Thompson’s spot. He tried twice to enlist in the Marine Corps, but was turned down both times, primarily because of concern about the seven concussions he suffered while bull riding.  

Our country’s National Guard role has dramatically expanded beyond a “weekend warrior” in support of the post 9/11 wars. Guard units comprised of citizen soldiers, not professional soldiers, are now deployed to some of the most dangerous parts of the world for months at a time. Mr. Turner realized he could continue bull riding and join the National Guard, knowing he would deploy, eventually. Until that time, he could get Army training, without taking a pay cut from what his rodeo activities provided.

He decided to become one of Okla.’s citizen soldiers by joining the U.S. Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th “Thunderbirds” Infantry Brigade in 2005. The Thunderbirds’ proud tradition dates to the late 1890s. World War II General George S. Patton described the 45th Infantry Division as “one of the finest, if not the finest infantry division in this history of modern warfare.”

As part of the enlistment process, the Army’s timed, multi-aptitude Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test is administrated to all potential recruits. Mr. Turner scored 97 out of 99 on the test. Such a score brought the recommendation that he join the counter intelligence team from more than 200 other job roles, but Mr. Turner’s mind was set. He was not interested in any backend role, but, instead, he wanted to use his unique skill set in a front line assignment, taking on our country’s enemy directly. Specifically, he wanted to be infantry along with requesting Airborne, Rangers, sniper and tactical tracking operations schools. While atypical for a guardsman to get the schooling requested (which usually takes 10 years of regular army service to achieve), Mr. Turner completed all but the Ranger school before being deployed.

In 2007, Infantry Scout Turner was deployed to Iraq where he was hand-selected to be a part of a 24-man team for an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance detachment, as well as rescue and recovery missions for downed aircraft pilots. Subsequently, he was scout/sniper for a three-man sniper team, which was supported by a scout team. During his 2011 Afghanistan deployment, Sergeant Turner was the senior sniper/team leader. While in Afghanistan, Sergeant Turner’s team of “motivated, intelligent, trainable and almost fearless” men developed a new approach to deal with IEDs. After each explosion, the team did an immediate site investigation and exploitation to gather forensic evidence and other information. This allowed them to proactively pursue the trigger person for the bomb and eliminate them by using their experience, kinetic tracking and technical skills. On one occasion, they tracked a suspect 17 miles through the hills before engaging him. The result of “going aggressive” on the specific bombers resulted in a dramatic drop from 31 to only three IED explosions a month in his province. By all accounts, the bombers were less inclined to get involved, knowing they would be immediately targeted by the highly-skilled team of Americans.

His method of maintaining his armory of weapons and munitions led to Staff Sergeant Turner being given the nickname “Sheldon” (based on Sheldon Cooper’s “The Big Bang Theory” character, who had an obsessive-compulsive disorder personality). He had a slow and deliberate method for mission preparation, which included using a dry erase board to do vector analysis and trigonometry calculations to keep his mind sharp and prepared. A great deal of math calculations are involved in effective long-range shooting.

Currently, Mr. Turner is finishing his second six-year Army Reserve commitment that will end in 2018. While he initially had trouble transitioning from hero warrior to civilian, with the aid of others, his life is now on a positive path. Using his veteran benefits, he graduated from MediSend International College, with a focus on biomedical engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. He became a biomedical technician responsible for 7,000 pieces of equipment for Forest Park Medical Center and Baylor, Scott and White before leaving to launch a new career. Mr. Turner and his wife, Megan, whom he met on match.com, were married in 2014. In February of 2016, they bought a bar in Frisco Square and relaunched it as The Roots Bar, a quaint, friendly neighborhood bar. The bar teams with a number of Frisco groups and businesses, including the Frisco Visual Arts School in support of the Frisco community.

Mr. Turner is a bit of a Renaissance man, with continued interest in areas such as physics, math, cigars, BMW racing, golf, advanced firearms instruction, security consultations and even authoring a book. Additionally, he volunteers his time to many charities for veterans and first responders, but the Equest Hooves for Heroes veterans program is a favorite. Additionally, he works with Passing the Torch, a program to teach practical battlefield learning skills and knowledge to ROTC units around the country, as another way of giving back. Mr. Turner and his wife have recently assumed legal guardianship of Mrs. Turner’s 14-year-old cousin, Savannah, and are expecting their first child next May. Mr. Turner is very approachable and engaging, while being a hard-driving, highly-intelligent young man with strong beliefs. His words sum it up best: “I do not have a fear of failing, I only have a fear of regret.”