Sgt. Steven Davidson has been in the Army less than three years, but he has already deployed to Africa, helped save a fellow soldier’s life and, as an E-4, served in a job typically reserved for a staff sergeant.
Davidson also is a mentor to a local middle-schooler, speaks to high school students about staying in school and against bullying, and hopes in the coming year to connect members of his university rugby team with students at the local middle schools.
For his initiative, maturity and passion for giving back to his community, Davidson is the 2012 Army Times Soldier of the Year.
“It really means a lot to me,” Davidson said of being selected. “I want to be an example for my soldiers. And if people see soldiers are out there making a difference, maybe they’ll get out there, too.”
Davidson, 21, is a member of the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion in Grand Prairie, Texas. He initially signed up for the active Army to be a combat medic but decided he wanted to go to college, so he opted instead for the Army Reserve.
His desire to give back to his community was sparked in 2009, when one of his classes during senior year in high school paired him with a third-grader named Josiah Greene. When the peer-assisted leadership class ended, Davidson said he didn’t want to stop being Greene’s “big brother.”
“The impact I have on him, and him on me, is outstanding,” Davidson said. So he continued to mentor and hang out with Greene, and he had lunch with Greene and his classmates once a week.
The two kept in touch when Davidson went to basic training and later when he deployed to Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa.
“Soldiers ... are looked up to by youth,” Davidson said. “Children admire someone in uniform, and my biggest concern is students and youth going the wrong way. I feel it’s my obligation to give back. I have such a passion for being a well-rounded soldier, serving overseas and at home.”
Davidson deployed to Djibouti in June 2011, after training for about a month at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. Davidson and his fellow soldiers re-deployed from Djibouti in April.
As a human resources specialist, Davidson worked in the S-1 shop and immediately impressed his officer in charge, said Maj. Edward Palacios, the battalion executive officer.
“She came to me and she’s like, ‘Wow, this Spc. Davidson is awesome,’” Palacios said. “I said, ‘How so?’ She said he … took the initiative, he wrote his very own mission statement talking about the things he wanted to accomplish on this deployment. It was really way above his paygrade. Heck, I don’t know any officers who do anything like that. I was really impressed with that.”
Davidson proved so reliable that when the S-1 noncommissioned officer in charge was re-deployed early, about halfway through the deployment, he was put in her job.
“He was still an E-4,” Palacios said. “He stood up and he filled an E-6 billet and he did a tremendous job. He didn’t have the experience an E-6 would have, but he was the kind of person who recognized where he was deficient in experience and he would go and do the research and find out what needed to be done.”
In September, Davidson and other soldiers participated in the French-run desert warfare course.
It was 120 degrees, and the soldiers were on the final march at the end of the intense 10-day course. The soldiers had already marched “close to 100 miles” by that point in the course, Palacios said.
“The heat was unbearable,” he said.
About nine hours into the march, the instructors kept saying, “One more mile, one more mile,” Davidson said, as the soldiers tried to conserve what little water they had left. Suddenly, a call rang out from the front of the line.
A fellow American was seizing and suffering from heatstroke.
“I grabbed my ruck and went up there,” Davidson said. “He was a big guy, and I could feel the heat coming off him.”
Davidson quickly took charge. He grabbed his scissors, started cutting off the master sergeant’s boots, and quickly ordered others to cut off the soldier’s uniform.
Davidson poured the last of his water on the seizing soldier, and he and a Marine captain stayed with the patient for two hours until he could be evacuated.
“We were all convinced it was too late,” Davidson said. “But he pulled through.” Palacios said, “By all accounts, had Sgt. Davidson not taken the initiative, it’s entirely possible this master sergeant would have died or been permanently injured. He recognized the danger of the situation right away. He proved himself so well.” Davidson shrugs off the compliments.
“I was just doing what anyone else would have done,” he said. “I didn’t think anything of it because it was muscle memory.”
He still visits his high school and Greene’s school, and he has big plans this fall when he resumes classes at the University of North Texas.
An avid rugby player, Davidson hopes to link the university’s rugby team with the local middle schools.
“My goal is to … get them connected so they can be positive role models for the kids,” he said. “Children need positive mentors. They need to see people who aren’t much older than them who want to make a difference.”
Davidson said part of his desire to connect with kids stems from his parents’ divorce when he was in high school.
“I didn’t have an older brother or older friends,” he said. “I knew how at-risk I was. I decided I don’t want any student to have to go through that. If I can impact one student, and one student can impact me, it’s more than I could ask for.”
As for the future, Davidson said he’s still trying to figure it all out.
His chain of command was so impressed with him that they nominated him for an appointment to West Point, Palacios said.
“I’m not trying to champion him because he’s from my unit,” Palacios said. “It’s because he impressed me so much. He’s just one of these people that comes across rarely.” Davidson said he’s considering becoming an officer, and he doesn’t want to let down his commanders, but he’s still undecided.
“I really like dealing with soldiers, being an NCO,” he said. “Right now, this is where I need to be. I love soldiers.”