Marine: Freedom not just an American thing, it’s a mankind thing
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter
By JOHN BRANNON
Messenger Staff Reporter
From out of nowhere came a storyline Wednesday afternoon that every news hound looks for, lives for: An Obion County native son decorated for heroism under enemy fire in Iraq.
From a brief report we glean the basics. U.S. Marine Corps staff Sgt. Steven M. Tanner, a 1994 graduate of South Fulton High School, was recently awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with “V” device for valor while serving in Iraq with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 7th Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
Twice in a 30-day period, Tanner’s platoon — he served as both platoon sergeant and a personal security detachment commander — came under enemy attack.
In a military operation near Ramadi, Iraq, an insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade point-blank into the humvee in which were Capt. Phillip Ash, commander of Co. K; Tanner, platoon sergeant; Corp. Don Schmidt, radio operator; Sgt. Juan Espinoza, gunner; and Corp. James Castaneda, driver.
Schmidt was seriously wounded. His leg had to be amputated.
Tanner and the others suffered minor wounds and he had a mild concussion from the blast.
“Tanner’s rapid response … saved the life of a fellow Marine,” the report reads.
In the second incident, Tan-ner’s unit came under heavy enemy machine gun and small arms fire while conducting a sweep. “He led the assault into the enemy’s positions which inspired surrounding Marines and broke the enemy’s attack,” according to the report.
Such was the brief report. Helpful, yes, but not much to go on.
However, with a little sleuthing and some help from here and there, a phone number was made available and an interview with the heroic Marine was hastily arranged.
At 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, he spoke via phone with The Messenger. He had just left a meeting at a U.S. Navy base at Indian Head, Md., where he is a platoon sergeant of 43 Marines.
In the interview, many questions came to mind, each important to the telling, each eager for expression. Not to worry. Tanner kept his cool, as they say in street jargon these days, and answered in a quiet and deliberate style.
He told us he attended South Fulton Elementary School and Middle School and the ninth grade at South Fulton High School. For his sophomore and junior years, he transferred to Union City High School and went back to SFHS for his senior year.
“I graduated from South Fulton (High School) on a Friday. On Monday, I was in boot camp at Parris Island (S.C.),” he said. “It was definitely a culture shock. My father was a former Marine. He told a little of what to expect. My recruiter didn’t lie to me, either. He told me straight and helped me get in better shape. I look back on it now and, other than my wife and son, it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Tanner is married to the former Stephanie Rooks of Martin. They have a son, Hudson Wayne Tanner, born Nov. 3, 2007. Mrs. Tanner is the daughter of Emery and Joyce Rooks of Martin.
Tanner is the son of Patsy McCaig of Martin and the late Steven “Spanky” Tanner of Paris, who died several years ago.
“My father served five tours in Vietnam,” Tanner said. “I have served two tours in Iraq.”
The Old Man
Tanner said he’s been a Marine 14 years and he’s going to go for 20, the minimum needed for retirement purposes. Meanwhile, if he’s needed again in Iraq, or anywhere else in the world, he’s ready to do his part.
“I joined the Marines knowing there was a possibility I’d go to war. I’ve been there. And if my country needs me again, I will go,” he said. “The young Marines have nicknamed me, ‘The Old Man,’ and that’s OK with me. I am what I am — an infantryman by trade. I’m trained on small arms up through crew-served weapons, also demolitions and shoulder-held rocket launchers and demolition dealing with C-4 TNT (dynamite).”
But these days, he’s more than that. At Indian Head Naval Base in Maryland, he’s a platoon commander and he has 43 Marines in his platoon. They are members of Company B, CBIRT. And what is “CBIRT”? An acronym that expands to “Chemical, Biological Incident Response Team.”
“I’m an instructor. We have 105 Marines on the team,” he said. “Our main purpose here is to respond to any kind of terrorist attack, whether it be chemical, biological, nuclear and high yield explosives. We aid and assist in casualty extractions.”
Of all the questions posed to Tanner, this one was paramount because he’s been there and put his life on the line several times: Are we making any progress there?
“My wife is afraid I’ll have to go back,” he said. “I look at my nephew (Nicholas, 3) and my son, and I tell myself that I’ll go back if I have to.
“The American people need to understand that freedom is not just an American thing. It’s a mankind thing. The Iraqi people deserve to be free. They deserve to have the same rights and privileges that we do.
“We have made a difference, a great difference, over there. We need to be there, as long as it takes. Those people need our help.”
Tanner is the grandson of Lavene Fry of Union City and the late Carl Fry.
Published in The Messenger 1.17.08