Airman overcomes barriers to reach uncommon heights

  • Published
  • By Randy A. Martin
  • Air Force Recruiting Service

A setback 10 years ago was the setup for one extraordinary Airman’s greatest achievement yet. When three other military branches denied his initial enlistment, Christopher Stuebbe, with help from his recruiter, got the medical waiver he needed from the Air Force, and he is poised to become a full-fledged Tactical Air Control Party officer.

It all began on the gridiron.

“I first met [Stuebbe] back in 2013 during a game of ultimate football in Mentor, Ohio, when my Delayed Entry Program team played against my brother’s DEP team,” said Tech. Sgt. Andrew Charvat, an Air Force recruiter now assigned to the Marketing Division in Air Force Recruiting Service’s headquarters at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.

Charvat’s brother was a Marine Corps recruiter, and their teams of prospective Airmen and Marines played against each other. Stuebbe was on the Marines team when the game started.

“I saw a kid that wanted a chance to serve. It was really a rare thing to see someone that wanted to serve as much as he did and didn’t care what job he received as long as he got his opportunity,” Charvat said.

Stuebbe graduated from one of the largest high schools in the state and was making “good money” in computer aided design thanks to a tw0-year technical program in his community college. With an uncle who flew planes in the Navy and Lake Erie minutes from home, maritime service was appealing. So, Stuebbe contacted the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Marine Corps.

“I had a calling of higher service, and I thought to myself that if I am physically and mentally able to do more, then I would be doing a disservice to my country if I didn’t serve,” Stuebbe said. There was a tempest to overcome.

“Initially, when I tried to join the Coast Guard, I had some old counseling records that were incorrect,” he said. The snafu forced Stuebbe to get a second opinion or face permanent disqualification. “I took it upon myself to pay for some new counseling to prove I didn’t have the issue that they thought I had,” he said.

Like many applicants, Stuebbe needed a waiver so that he could complete the accession process and serve in the military. Seeming adrift and without hope, Stuebbe welcomed his Marine recruiter’s referral to a literal brother.

“My brother said his boss wouldn’t run the medical waiver,” Charvat said. He graduated a few years ahead of Stuebbe at the same high school in Mentor, and the Air Force recruiter recognized potential.

The Air Force approved the waiver and Stuebbe entered the “pipeline” to become an Airman. He was thrilled.

“I said I would take any job to get me into the Air Force and fulfill my dream to serve,” Stuebbe said. “I can remember crying while I was calling everyone in my family that day telling them how excited I was that I was finally accepted. I left work early and spent the rest of the day in awe at the fact that one day I would actually be an Airman."

In Stuebbe’s case “any job” took him to the fuels career field with an assignment at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, after he completed basic military training and technical school. He had bigger goals that required experience, training and education.

“I knew I wanted to command one day, and I wanted to be the leader that other Airmen could depend on and look up to,” Stuebbe said. “I wanted to be able to truly effect change and move mountains as an officer.”

He did well and he accepted an opportunity to serve as a forward area refuel point specialist. He supported special operations forces on two deployments. His effort paid off, and he was selected as one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year for 2019.

Stuebbe was eager to do more.

“FARP was my initial taste of Air Force Special Operations Command, and once I found out I was physically and mentally able to perform at a higher level, it only made sense to take that drive into the Special Warfare side of the house,” he said. “I wanted to be in the action, putting bombs on target, and protecting other guys on the ground. The best way to do that was to become a Tactical Air Control Party officer. I want to be able to take care of Special Warfare Airmen in the best way possible and coming from prior enlisted I feel that many of the lessons I learned will help on the rest of my journey.”

With the schooling he already had and a combination of programs available through the Air Force, Stuebbe earned a bachelor’s degree without spending more money. “The Air Force puts a huge emphasis on education, and I was presented multiple ways to achieve any education goal I had,” he said.

The toughest part was still ahead. First, he completed the TACP officer selection process at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis.

“Special Warfare selection is very competitive,” Stuebbe said with emphasis. “There are so many amazing individuals that I saw not get selected, and I feel extremely blessed and humbled to be chosen to serve as an officer and in the TACP career field,” Stuebbe said.

Next, he completed more than eight weeks of Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama culminating with a commissioning ceremony in September. He thought about his mentors.

“I learned so many skills including leadership styles, time management, caring for people, how being involved with your Airmen is super important, how to be selfless, constant need for professional education, how to put others before yourself, and how to mentor,” Stuebbe said. He said that his wife motivates him and that she is his “source of his strength.”

Stuebbe asked Charvat to attend the ceremony and play a symbolic role for the newly commissioned officer—to be the first enlisted person he would exchange salutes with according to military customs and courtesy.

Charvat was thrilled.

“From when I met him until now, my opinion of him hasn’t changed much at all,” Charvat said. “He is still the hard-working kid from day one when I met him until he left for bootcamp. We stayed in touch a bit once he left mainly via Facebook. I would see some of his posts or he would message me about various awards he won or what he was doing next in his career, and it was really awesome to see how he took his opportunity and made the most out of it.”

Stuebbe felt a deep sense of gratitude.

“Without Charvat, I wouldn’t be in the Air Force,” Stuebbe said. “I wouldn’t have been in petroleum, oil, and lubrication, I wouldn’t have been FARP, I wouldn’t have been one of the 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year, I wouldn’t have been stationed in the place where I met my wife before the military, I would have never lived in Florida, I would have never assessed to become a TACP, and I would have never met the most amazing individuals to ever come into my life. If I had to put my military service on an exact moment or person, it would be him. He believed in me when others didn’t and took the extra step to get me into the Air Force. I owe everything to him.”

The next phase of training for Stuebbe includes specialized TACP training at JBSA-Lackland, Texas, and Airborne training at Fort Benning, Georgia.