View Full Version : Marine is far from home in Afghanistan, but never far from the thoughts of his parent

09-08-09, 08:46 AM
Marine is far from home in Afghanistan, but never far from the thoughts of his parents in Warwick

By Becca Tucker
Published: September 3, 2009
Warwick - News of Lance Corporal Stephen Peters is sketchy back home. Most recently, the 22-year-old Marine from Warwick was photographed by the Associated Press on Aug. 24 looking through the scope of his sniper rifle to monitor a spot inside a village bazaar in Afghanistan.

According to the news report, Taliban insurgents fired a rocket propelled grenade and several AK-47 rounds at him and his company of marines.

This is the sort of information his mother dreads. “I don’t pick up a newspaper or watch TV news anymore,” said Elizabeth Peters, a Warwick school bus driver who lives in Wickham Village with children, Kelly, 23, and Sean, 15. “I’m afraid. Every time anyone pulls in the driveway - for some reason everyone’s always turning around in our driveway - my heard skips a beat.”

“I don’t really understand political things. All I understand is the mother’s point of view: My baby’s over there and he shouldn’t be.”

Joins Marines at 19

When the Marines came recruiting at Warwick Valley High School, Stephen was a basketball-playing sophomore. “From the beginning, he was into the adventure of it,” said his father, also named Stephen Peters (“Steve” from now on), a highway supervisor in Clarkstown. “He loved to play those video games of the war stuff. He loved paintball.”

After graduating high school, Stephen had a few different jobs - one working at an orchard and another as a car mechanic. “He wasn’t interested in college right off the bat,” said Elizabeth. “He went from this job to that job. He realized he wasn’t going anywhere. All his friends were just hanging out.”

To his parents’ chagrin, Stephen decided at age 19 to join the Marines. “I cried, I begged and I pleaded for him not to go, because there was a war,” said Elizabeth. “It’s not like sending your son off to college. You’re sending your son to be more or less shot at.”

But Stephen was of age and wouldn’t be dissuaded.

“I was against it,” said Steve. “I don’t object to him serving his country,” he clarified. “I object to the country being involved in situations the United Nations could be getting involved in.”

A family tradition

Which is not to say they’re not proud. Stephen is carrying on a family tradition. Steve’s father, brother and uncle were Marines in Korea, Guam and Vietnam. His uncle won a Purple Heart and his father fought in the decisive Chosin Reservoir Campaign in Korea. In that battle, the Marines were victorious, but suffered heavy casualties and frostbite.

Elizabeth remembers her son’s graduation in 2007 from the rigorous 13-week Marine boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. “I was so proud that he did it, and the way they have them marching!” Her backyard is festooned with a yellow ribbon around a tree trunk; an American flag mailbox; a string of red-white-and-blue lights on a lamp post; and a Marines flag planted in the garden.

Stephen is three years and a couple promotions through his four-year service. Before Afghanistan, he was in Iraq for around eight months, including his 21st birthday. “I can finally drink,” he told his parents, “and I had to drink non-alcoholic beer!”

In photos from Iraq, Stephen is unsmiling, wearing fatigues and wraparound sunglasses. He is pictured with Iraqi children who are smiling and pointing their fingers at the camera like guns; operating a machine gun on top of a tank; driving a tank; and standing next to a 4,000-pound cache of insurgent explosives and ammunition that the Marines found, dug up and detonated.

“This was my first time finding a cache. It was very exciting to find it,” Stephen told a Marine Corps reporter in 2008.

Thoughts of college, state police

When he’s not deployed, Stephen is stationed in Hawaii. The three times he’s been home to visit, his parents, now divorced, have paid for his plane tickets so he can save his money. Even with the military discount, they feel the expense.

The last few years have matured Stephen, his parents agree. For awhile now he has been talking about becoming a state trooper. Last time he came home he was thinking he might like to go to Penn State and become a criminal justice lawyer, like a friend of his. His college will be paid for by the GI Bill. “At least he’s pointing in the right direction, anyway,” said Steve.

But after Iraq, “he came home much different,” said Elizabeth. “And I think it’s going to be worse now. He didn’t see much action in Iraq. He seemed quiet. And mad. No, not exactly mad….”

“I’ll ask him things and he just won’t talk - not to me anyway,” said Elizabeth. “He spent a 10-hour shift staring at sand, that’s what he tells me. And he did say he can’t believe the conditions. He doesn’t understand how anyone can live like that.”

Not allowed to give specifics over the phone, Stephen has told his mother only that Afghanistan is “noisier” than Iraq. Already, 2009 has been the deadliest year for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, accounting for 34 percent of the 542 dead since the war began in 2001, according to icasualties.org, which tracks reports of deaths. With 77 coalition casualties, August was the deadliest month yet for foreign forces in Afghanistan.

“I can feel the stress much more intense when he’s deployed than when he’s in Hawaii,” said Steve. “Sometimes I get crazy dreams.”