The Stories Behind the Scars and Wounds of War




Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way... that is not easy.

~ Aristotle























There are people we wonder about but don't make attempts to contact. Perhaps we're afraid of empty conversations with someone or perhaps we're curious about someone whose life we watched for awhile from afar. Sometimes it's just been too long and sometimes we can't even articulate the need to know whatever happened to them. Where are they? Did they make it? Are they happy? Are they passionate about something in their lives? Are they anything like the people we once knew?"

~Audrey Beth Stein

Behind the Scars: Scott StephensonScott Stephenson, Wounded Warrior

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 several years.

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 through this."

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.

Scott Stephenson, Wounded MilitaryThe IED 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.

Note: Scott Stephenson is no longer associated with Tempered Steel Inc. and no longer speaks for the organization.