GREELEY, Colo. (AP) – The tats are still there. Under his sleeves. Under the dress uniform that has the eagle on the arm and the ribbons and the medal.

Stevie Limas was once on the road that would likely had led to jail or being killed in the street. As a teen, he hooked up with a street gang, and he was a tough guy.

Today, Stevie Limas is still a tough guy. Tougher, actually. You see, Stevie Limas just got back from some of the worst fighting in the Middle East. And he was tough enough to survive. He was in Afghanistan, 12 miles from the Pakistani border, working as an U.S. Army sniper who doesn’t want to talk about the shots he’s made. “You keep your mouth shut and do what you’re supposed to do,” is what he’ll tell you.

Last September, the television news program “60 Minutes” visited the 101st Airborne in Afghanistan, where Limas was fighting. The show called it the worst area for fighting in the world at the time. It’s hard to see sometimes, but if you look closely in some of the outdoor scenes, you can see Stevie Limas in the background, carrying his sniper rifle, his name on his backpack.

Limas is only 20 now, with two years in the Army, a wife, Raquel, and baby named Eva. These are the good times of his life.

His problems in school started in the seventh grade, when he started hangin’ with the gang. After middle school, he was only at Greeley West High School for a half-year before he got into trouble. He got a job and transferred to Trademark High School, where his life began to change.

He worked at the Texas Roadhouse at 14 years old, busing tables, doing the dishes. Then came the job at the Village Inn on 10th Street, and he began to realize that there was more to life than gangs and problems and cops and acting tough. Within two years at the Inn, Limas worked his way up to be a manager.

And he met Raquel.

“She was the one,” he says now. “I just had to prove to her parents that I was worthy.”

He always wanted to be in the military, but he was blind in one eye and knew he wouldn’t qualify. Then he met Sgts. 1st Class Ruiz and Lopez at the Greeley recruiting station. “They showed me you only need one eye to shoot,” Limas said.

So, even though his parents weren’t too happy about it, Limas enlisted.

“Dad was pretty upset,” Limas said. “He even went to the recruiters and tried to get it stopped.”

Dad is proud today.

“He’s shown he wants to make a difference,” David Limas said of his son. “And that’s what he’s doing.”

Limas married Raquel and they had Eva, and he went to Afghanistan.

“You see what’s happening in Afghanistan on TV, and then all of the sudden — you’re there,” he said. “It’s a whole lot different watching it on TV.”

He’ll always remember the gunfire, the bullets that hit nearby, the rockets, the mortar rounds, the exploding rounds.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ll ever do in my life,” he said. “Afghanistan made me appreciate what we have here in America.”

So, Stevie Limas has changed his life. The tats are covered by the long sleeves most of the time. He doesn’t wear the baggy pants anymore, and he doesn’t have to prove he’s tough.

On leave now, he doesn’t wear his uniform very much because it makes him stand out, and he says he didn’t join the Army for the recognition. It’s sometimes embarrassing to him when strangers come up and tell him how much they appreciate what he’s doing.

It also makes Limas look at things from a different perspective. The news came last week of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on protesters at soldiers’ funerals — the members of the Topeka church that picket solders’ funerals and say they deserved to die. The court determined those church members are exercising their free speech rights. Those kind of people can make Limas angry, but then he adds, “We have to remember that what those people do, even though we hate it, it’s the kind of rights we’re fighting for.”

On Sunday, Stevie and Raquel brought Eva to their church — Victory Christian Fellowship — to “introduce their family to the congregation.” He wore his dress uniform, and the church gave them an overwhelming welcome.

Limas and his family will move to Colorado Springs soon, where he’s been assigned to Fort Carson. He looks forward to living in Colorado again; the gang life is now a long-ago bad memory.

And even though he still finds it a little embarrassing sometimes to be thanked for his service, for strangers to come up and shake his hand, Stevie Limas wears that uniform with pride.

He has re-enlisted for three more years.

– By Mike Peters, The Daily Tribune

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)


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