Utah veteran injured in Afghanistan hopes his story will inspire others to keep going
SPANISH FORK, Utah — Every veteran has a story, and in Spanish Fork, U.S. Navy Officer Jordan Stevenson is hoping his story inspires those feeling hopeless or defeated to keep going.
“I think everything I’ve been through speaks to a broader group of people who have been through hard things, who are struggling in general with mental health, with physical health,” Stevenson said.
Following in his grandfather’s footsteps, Stevenson joined the U.S. Navy in 2006, becoming Second Class Petty Officer Stevenson, EOD 2 (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).
In Dec. 2011, Stevenson was stationed in Sharana, Afghanistan, when he climbed a wall to look for explosives and was shot in the head.
“I remember radioing to my team that it looked clear and that’s the last thing I remember,” Stevenson said. “I got shot through the head at 20 feet up on the wall.”
Stevenson credits one of his teammates that night with saving his life.
“He held onto my head from the ground to the surgeon. The whole helicopter flight, he never let go of my head. He kept me alive,” Stevenson said. “It was Robert Moreno and he’s my hero.”
Stevenson was shot through the front of his head, near his forehead, and the bullet traveled through his brain and out through the back of his helmet.
“If you could feel my forehead, you could feel kind of where the indent is and where the metal plate is now, where the bullet hit me,” he said.
Stevenson spent two months in a coma.
“Waking up from that was the scariest thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “Because I was just in a gunfight, to my memory, and I have tubes coming out of neck, out of my arms, and I’m in a hospital bed, but it’s pitch black, I don’t know that I’m in a hospital because I’ve been asleep for that long.”
What he learned in those critical moments after waking up would completely change the course of his life.
“I will never forget having the doctors come in and talk to me and tell me that I was paralyzed and I was never going to walk again. I’ll never forget that,” Stevenson said. “It crushed me. I was devastated, but at the same time, because of the mentality I have, it motivated me also. In a small way, it motivated me to prove him wrong.”
Stevenson was paralyzed on the right side of his body, and because of where the bullet entered his brain, doctors were worried he would never talk again. He was angry but determined to prove them wrong.
“I was going to give it everything I had until I couldn’t.”
As Stevenson began therapy and rehabilitation, he repeatedly broke his right ankle. It became a cycle that limited his progress. With no feeling in that leg, he asked a surgeon to take it off so he could have more mobility with a prosthetic.
“I really wanted to play with my son and do those things with my son I was struggling with, so if that was a way to get to it, I was willing to do it,” he said.
Stevenson, who was once a collegiate track athlete, was at a point in his life when he had to reinvent himself.
“My persona, who I saw myself, was this big, tough military guy. That was me, that’s how I saw myself, that was my value — the protector,” Stevenson said. “So then, I had to find a new self-image of who I was going to be, and that was dad. I wanted to be the best dad I could possibly be.”
Stevenson’s story is one of resilience. For years, he’s battled the physical injuries, and the mental ones, too.
“I’m still surviving that,” he said. “There are absolutely days where I don’t want to get up, I won’t want to put my stupid leg back on, I just want to get dressed and go.”
While Stevenson has always considered himself a fighter, a year ago, he lost a close Navy officer to suicide and decided he could do more.
“I feel like that really put me on overdrive. I realized I really need to be more of a voice to people like him,” Stevenson said. “If they (fellow veterans) see me or hear me on a podcast, or see me on the TV, and I’m sharing my story and that encourages them to share theirs and that saves their life, then that’s value, that’s something I cherish.”
After moving to Spanish Fork last year, Stevenson began sharing his journey on Instagram as Head Shot Jordan. He’s also been a guest on several podcasts and recently began speaking to local youth groups.
“It takes a couple minutes for it to really sink in, like what I’ve been through, because I bring my helmet that has the bullet holes in it and I share that with them,” Stevenson said. “I want to be an example to them — ‘Well, Jordan did it. He struggled through this. Maybe I can reach out to him if I’m struggling through something, too.’”
Along with teaching the next generation about resilience, Stevenson also hopes to share a message about service and sacrifice.
“I fought for them, so I hope they leave with pride, and these are the kind of men and women that are fighting for us, that are standing behind me that are willing to protect me.”
Steven’s injury on that cold December night in Afghanistan has given him a new outlook on life. He’s now married to his wife, Sarah, and has three beautiful children. He says he cherishes all the little moments that he may not have had before, like walking his dog in the morning, cooking breakfast with his daughters, or simply climbing the stairs.
“Everything means more now, everything,” he said.
When reflecting on what it means to be a veteran, Stevenson said he purposely cuts his hair so people will see his scars. And when he’s out in public and someone sees his head or his robotic leg and has questions, he wants them to ask him about it.
“No one ever knows how to respond to, ‘I got shot through the head,’” he laughed.
It’s not the life Stevenson had envisioned before entering the U.S. Navy, but it’s one he’s grateful for every day. It’s one, he says, he’ll continue to fight for.
“I chased my dreams. I grew up wanting to do what I did, and I don’t regret doing any of it. I would do it again if I could,” he said.
Stevenson hopes by sharing his story, others will seek out veterans in their own communities and get to know their journey. And when it comes to showing appreciation for those veterans, he says simply saying, ‘Thank you’ is enough.
“It means a lot to me,” Stevenson said. “Every person that thanks me for my service, I carry that with me for a while. I remember their faces, I remember where I was when they told me. Those things are small things, but a really big thing for me.”
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