NEWS | May 1, 2018

Citizen-Warrior: Military, civilian experience enhances Soldier’s situational awareness

By Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith National Guard Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. – An infantryman with the South Carolina Army National Guard’s C Company, 1st Battalion, 118th Infantry Regiment takes the Warrior Ethos to heart.

“We’re supporting the mission on the ground and making that difference,” said Army Sgt. Stephen Caldwell, adding that he loves being a part of a larger team. “Being a fire team leader, providing fire superiority and taking over the objectives – it’s an adrenaline rush to say the least.”

But it’s radio communications that give him the opportunity to provide a greater tactical edge for his unit.

“It’s communication that makes everything run and I love the challenge,” he said, adding the radio makes him feel like a double threat on the battlefield.

“A single radio has the power to change the outcome of an engagement,” Caldwell said.

It’s a similar challenge he finds in his civilian job as a watch analyst with the Department of Homeland Security. In that capacity, Caldwell monitors potential national threats that could pose harm to physical structures, cyber networks and the environment.

“We have situational awareness on pretty much anything,” he said.

Prior to working at DHS, Caldwell spent four years working at the South Carolina Emergency Management Division’s joint operations center. The experience there laid the groundwork for his current DHS job, he said.

“It gave me an understanding of what affects critical infrastructures,” said Caldwell. “Just seeing it from a technical standpoint helped me understand what is needed at the national level with DHS, as far as the cause and effect of things.”

Caldwell said he has also found crossovers from the military side as well.

“Great communication is key when a situation is developing and when you need to put something out to leadership so they can make a judgment call,” he said. “Camaraderie is a big thing on our teams and it keeps me motivated when taking on a new task.”

Whether he is in his civilian or military role, Caldwell said he likes to learn and grow, making it a point to move laterally within DHS and absorb all the new information he can along the way.

“Complacency kills, so I take the time in learning new things outside of my normal skill set,” he said. “It makes for more excitement on a daily basis.”

That eagerness to learn – along with being highly competent and having a strong commitment to the homeland security mission – makes Caldwell an asset, said Matt Vaughn, a program manager in the DHS section where Caldwell works.

“He’s a real go-getter and you never have to tell him [to execute a task] twice,” he said. “He gets it. He does it and it’s always done well.”

While Caldwell said training and teamwork have been the backbone of his success with the South Carolina Army Guard and the DHS, he is furthering his personal and professional growth by attending school for intelligence studies at the American Military University.

“Education helps me relay my thoughts in a productive way, helping me better connect with Soldiers,” he said.

But college education has not been the only source of learning for Caldwell.

He was a self-described “gung-ho kid” when he deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 with the South Carolina Army Guard’s 218th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The experience of working with his fellow Soldiers in a deployed environment, he said, taught him the importance of thinking in a more critical and tempered way.

“I learned that even though you can’t control everything, you still have to remain mission focused,” he said. Following that mindset, Caldwell added, requires not making “emotional decisions.”

He said he tells new Army Guard Soldiers that taking on new tasks will help them stand out – like becoming a “double threat” by learning the ins and outs of radio communication.

“Always be willing to learn something new,” said Caldwell. “Once you start to do that you fall into a pattern as that Soldier with a can-do attitude.”