Larry Stegeman believed that after graduating in 1979 from Helias Catholic High School, it was time to go to work, while pursuing a college education and military service were the least of his interests. But 37 years later, he mirthfully reflected, he earned a bachelor's and two master's degrees and retired as a colonel after more than three decades in the Missouri National Guard.
"After high school, I worked full time with the print shop for the Missouri Bar Association," he said. "I had a friend in the Missouri National Guard and after listening to him talk about it, I just thought it seemed like a good thing to do at the time."
Enlisting in January 1982, the young recruit completed his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, followed by advanced training as a tactical wireman at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
Upon returning to Missouri in the summer of 1982, he continued to work full time at his job with the Missouri Bar Association while attending drills and training periods with his unit in Jefferson City. However, in 1983, he applied for a vacancy in the print shop at the Missouri National Guard headquarters and was soon hired.
"While working there, we printed slips of paper to distribute to the soldiers that showed the pay scales for officers and enlisted," he said. "I noticed the officer pay was quite a bit better than what I was making as an enlisted soldier."
Stegeman resolved to become an officer and attended college classes in pursuit of this goal. He graduated from Officer's Candidate School in 1986 but could not find a full-time slot as a lieutenant. In 1988, he was able to become a warrant officer and, the following year, converted to second lieutenant when finding a compatible job at state headquarters.
"As a new officer, I had the job of scheduling schools and training for full-time federal technicians and later transferred to a manpower position in the human resources office," he explained. "In 1997, I became the logistics officer for 70th Troop Command when it was located in Centertown and that's where I was promoted to major."
The ensuing years were a series of assignments that were educational and engaging in nature, including a stint as training officer and administrative officer for 70th Troop Command. In the spring of 2003, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and in October the same year, received his baptism of fire when he became battalion commander for the 835th Corps Support Battalion.
"The battalion had orders to report to Fort Riley (Kansas) in December 2003 to train for deployment to the Middle East as part of OIF II (Operation Iraqi Freedom II)," he said. "I won't say that it was really any big surprise because we kind of knew it was coming since a lot of units from the state had already deployed."
While at Fort Riley, the battalion underwent marksmanship and leadership training in addition to scrambling to prepare their vehicles and acquire all the equipment needed for the pending deployment. Departing the U.S. in February 2004, they were in Kuwait for approximately a week before convoying to a base near Tikrit in northern Iraq known as "Camp Speicher."
"There was a great level of responsibility because a typical battalion command had oversight of approximately 450 soldiers; we had seven units and more than 1,000 soldiers under our battalion," he asserted. "One of the biggest distractions from accomplishing the mission while deployed was an assortment of personnel issues such as divorces. Fortunately, I had a good executive officer, Lt. Col. Mark Randazzo, who took care of these administrative challenges so I could focus on doing my job."
The battalion had transportation and maintenance units under their command. They completed daily combat logistics missions that included hauling everything from bottled water to tanks from Syria to Iran and Turkey into Kuwait.
"We transported food, fuel, vehicles and other supplies to all of the smaller bases in the region," he said. "Although I was the battalion commander, I still went on many of these missions. In April 2004, I was part of a convoy that was attacked by an IED and the soldiers in the rear truck were badly injured. Because of this incident, I received a Combat Action Badge."
Lowering his head in pained reflection, Stegeman added, "I awarded 68 Purple Hearts during the deployment, and we lost three soldiers to IED attacks. One was an active-duty soldier who had a 3-day-old baby that he never even got to see a picture of."
The battalion returned to the U.S. in the early weeks of 2005 and, shortly thereafter, Stegeman became the training officer in the operations section at the Missouri National Guard Headquarters. Several years later, he was reassigned as a deputy director in the U.S. Property and Fiscal Office.
The closing moments of his career came in 2016 with an appointment to Facilities Management Officer, assisting in the oversight of state property such as armories and training sites. In May 2019, he retired from the National Guard at the rank of colonel. He and his wife, Sheryl, live on a farm in Jamestown and are parents to two sons, Cameron and Tyler.
The recipient of a Bronze Star for his successful leadership as a battalion commander, Stegeman credits the support of his wife and sons as the basis of the success and longevity in his career.
The 37 years he spent in the military career offered a variety of unique experiences, but Stegeman maintains his deployment to the Middle East in command of a battalion remains his most vivid and impactful period in uniform.
"The deployment was really significant because of being in the war zone and having the responsibility for bringing soldiers home safely," he said. "It was also memorable because we had National Guard, Reserve and active-duty units all working together who, prior to their arrival in Iraq, had never even met each other."
He concluded, "And we were successful; we successfully performed every mission that we were given."
Jeremy P. mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.