By: Mason Strawn
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, played a massive part in many people’s lives. In the year following 9/11, over 180,000 Americans enlisted in the military, including Pittsburgh native Steve Snyder. Three days after the attacks on the nation, he joined the U.S. Navy, where his time in the service would change his life in a way he never thought it could.
Snyder, now 45, grew up on the North Side and attended the University of Pittsburgh for information technology. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Pitt and was working in the city of Pittsburgh at the time of the attacks.
Married with a family at the time, he heavily debated on whether he could, or should, enlist at all. But he wanted to do what he could to help his country.
After a lengthy conversation with his wife, he joined the Navy, and traveled to Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois for boot camp. He would join a program known as NEPSAC, a course created for individuals 26 and older who enlisted, where they trained in skills to help them in civilian life outside of combat.
“I would show up for six months to my drill site for drill weekends, where I was taught customs and courtesies,” said Synder. “I then went to an abbreviated boot camp for just 15 days.” Most Naval boot camps take anywhere between one to almost three months by comparison, he said.
Snyder became a religious program specialist or an RP, who assist Navy chaplains. Many, many of these, including actual ordained ministers, priests, rabbis and others, support them in their duties. These same RPs also act as armed bodyguards for chaplains, which is what Snyder spent most of his time as while being deployed in Iraq from 2006 till 2009, working side by side with the U.S. Marine Corps due to its lack of chaplains in its ranks.
The assignment pleased him. “That’s the only reason I signed up, was because I was going to be attached to a Marine Corp group,” said Snyder. “From the day I signed my papers that was the intent.”
During his time in Iraq, Snyder was always connected to a surgical drops shock platoon unit, but he wasn’t always connected to a chaplain, making him more connected with the Marines than with the Navy in the
long run. These platoons are made up mostly of medical soldiers who assist in the emergency care of soldiers, and most of them included chaplains.
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Snyder attempted to get overseas as quickly as possible by becoming an individual augmentee, which is someone who is without a unit and who would be placed wherever needed most. Due to this, he would not land on foreign soil till 2006, where he was stationed near Habbaniyah, a coastal city in Iraq. He spent most of his time in the home base, not getting into many engagements except for mortar attacks aimed toward the base.
A lot of the duties that Snyder was required to do were in the medical field as well, helping in vaccinations and other medical responsibilities, where the unit would take in not only U.S. soldiers who had fallen in battle but also enemy combatants, in hopes of being able to help them, no matter the side. Snyder’s military time would end in 2009, where he was sent back home after three years of time in Iraq.
He returned a different person than when he had left, Snyder said, with more life experience than he ever expected to receive.
“[I would do it all again]) in a heartbeat,” said Snyder. “When I got out in 2009, I had put an officer package in to get picked up as an officer. If I were to have gotten picked, it would’ve been a sign to stick around, [and] if not, then it was a sign that it’s time to move on.”
Snyder returned to his work at Alcoa in its information technology department, and he now works in its spinoff company, Arconic, in a similar role. Snyder currently lives in the Pittsburgh area with his wife and three children.
Today he has no regrets about enlisting and serving his country. “I think what the military teaches you in terms of leadership and working in a complex environment, what it can do to your career, and the discipline it teaches you is phenomenal,” said Snyder.
Learn more about Synder and watch the interview here.