Stephen Shackelford lives near Vilonia with wife, Emily. They have two children Elijah Cole, 10, and Allisyn Grace, 4.

A life of service was exemplified for him from the beginning, and although there are challenges, he has chosen a professional life after the military to help other veterans.

Stephen was born in Jacksonville, Arkansas, on the Little Rock Air Force Base, and his father was a C-130 Loadmaster. 

“My dad had always tried to sway me to join [the military], but at that point, I was too young to listen to anything. I saw first-hand how the Air Force had him deployed for long periods of time and that just didn’t seem like something I wanted to do,” he said. “A few years after high school, I found myself working two to three jobs trying to make ends meet. My best friend from high school, Chris Brannon, was talking to me one day about him and his brother joining the Army and asked me if I wanted to join with them. At that point, it seemed as if a beacon of light shone down from the Heavens above and was showing me the clear path!”

During Basic Training for the U.S. Army, Stephen obtained his EMT license and later became a Certified Nurse’s Assistant.

“I’m proud that I obtained the Combat Medic status in the Military,” he said. “School was tough and hot during June, July and August in San Antonio, Texas!”

Now, Stephen works for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System in the Acute Psych Unit at Fort Roots in North Little Rock.

“I look forward to coming to work every day at the VA to help my fellow Veterans that are trying to deal with everyday choices, and the trauma they endured that is preventing them from doing so,” he said. “Knowing that I am doing my best to help my fellow veterans gives me great pride in what I do.”

After two deployments, once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, in combat zones, Stephen said he is left with much reflection of service and struggles. 

“I have obtained the National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Army Forces Reserve Medal with Device, Global War On Terrorism Service Medal, Global War On Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, Army Good Conduct Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award and my most proud possession, my Combat Medical Badge,” he said. 

The Combat Medical Badge is an award of the United States Army which was first created in January 1945. Any member of the Army Medical Department, at the rank of Colonel or below, who is assigned or attached to a ground Combat Arms unit of brigade or smaller size which provides medical support during any period in which the unit was engaged in active ground combat is eligible for the CMB.

“I was fortunate enough to get attached to the Evac Platoon of Charlie Med 39th Support Battalion,” he said.” There, my Squad Leader, Ron Ward, took me under his wing and showed me the way. Along with Ward, I met Adam McCauley, Aaron Harper, Michael Miller and Andrew Baker who helped mold me into the Medic that I was going to be. Other highly influential people were Greg Oginski, Stephen Perry, Kacey Teague, James Rhoades, Cort Calkins, Bobby Norwood, Tim Honea and Rebecca Spencer. Each of these people can be counted on for being a positive role model and to lead the way.”

But leaving active combat left something else. Stephen was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder he has battled for years. But in April, Stephen welcomed Mare, an 8-week old German Shepherd puppy to the family. Working with the Cpl. Dane Freedman Foundation, Stephen was designated a good fit for the program with help of Kay Dale, of “Poje German Shepherds” in Sidney, Arkansas. 

“So I found this group. I gave Kay a call and we immediately hit it off! She knew that this GSD would be a great fit in my life and would increase my quality of life.”Stephen said. “My plans are to have her trained to be able to detect my panic attacks from PTSD. I was also diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes while I was in the military, and I will want her to be able to detect when my sugar is too high or too low as well.”

Stephen and his family are animal lovers, and have begun raising a farm of sorts.

“I’m currently in the process of raising a rabbit farm,” he said. “I have had up to 14 rabbits that all started with an Easter Bunny from my parents for my two kids! I also have 8 chickens and a duck (Goosey Goosey) that lay eggs for me. I currently have Lion Heads, Chinchilla Rabbits, a Californian/New Zealand and a Rex. We just traded two chickens to my wife’s Aunt Tanya, due to a misfortunate incident, for two baby chicks. One is an Australorp and the other is an Easter Egger that lays pastel colored eggs!”

Through it all, though, Stephen holds one thing most dear.

“My life lesson would be to make God Number One and everything else will fall into place — a life lesson I wish I would have learned a long time ago,” he said. “But it’s never too late to trust in Him.”

For more information on the Cpl. Dane Freedman Foundation and how you can help, log onto www.danefreedman.com.

If you know a verteran or first responder and would like to nominate them for a feature, please email ksublett@thecabin.net.