JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The retirement ceremony of Lt. Col. Jeffery D. Steffen, deputy commander, Defense Language Institute English Language Center and commander of the associated U.S. Army element, took place Jan. 30, after a remarkable 30-year military career
The day before, Steffen pleasantly offered one of DLI's international students the opportunity to make a flashback on his career and interview him. From the very first moment, I could tell that he was truly dedicated to his profession and served his country and its people with dignity. Even the purpose that got him in the army was noble. "I believed it is important that some choose to serve so that others have a choice not to. Some countries still have mandatory military service and it is important for people to volunteer so that others don't have to," said Steffen.
We started with a glimpse at the beginning and nostalgically discussed the first years of Steffen's military service. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve in January 1986, completing Basic Combat Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In 1992, Steffen culminated his military training with the Distinguished Military Graduate title from the Reserve Officer Training Corps at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah and entered active duty as a second lieutenant in the infantry at Fort Carson, Colorado. That period was quite an experience: he became an accomplished platoon leader, jumped out of airplanes, and completed Army Ranger School. That training took place during the coldest period of the year, from January through March, which was a tough lesson for him during his career. All that shaped and formed a young professional who, after four years, transitioned to the Military Intelligence Corps.
Shaping assignments as a captain traces back to the time when Steffen was a French instructor at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York. During those two years of teaching, he was very demanding of his students by giving them daily quizzes; he remembered those good old times and considered them a great experience.
The next part of Steffen's career was centric Europe. First, he spent a year in Paris where he graduated from the French Joint War College. During the next phase, he was entrusted with key military intelligence positions such as the Chief of the Analytical Control Element for the 7th Army/U.S. Army in Europe, then headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, followed by the Battalion Executive Officer in Darmstadt, Germany. During that period, he was twice deployed to Afghanistan, both tours were in the Intelligence Analysis Section at the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Kabul. Those deployments Steffen considered very important for his professional development: "I gained a lot of things that I inflicted on DLI, such as work in groups and strategic planning."
The last assignment as the Deputy Commandant of the Defense Language Institute English Language Center would be memorable for Steffen because he enjoyed meeting professional instructors, supervisors and program managers, as well as interacting with students. He tried to visit classes every week and share the same powerful message: "If you want to be strong physically, you go to the gym and if you want to have strong English muscles, homework is how you exercise them." He would also say that academic reading and critical thinking in English were crucial for students in order to develop advanced proficiency in their foreign language.
Steffen outlined the importance for the students to build amiable relationships and for the instructors to appreciate the important role of DLI, something that all of them would take in their future careers. Knowledge accumulated during that period which made students emerge as honored graduates on DLI's wall of fame.
The fact that Steffen took the position of Deputy Commander at DLI with a linguistic background prompted him to actively participate with the entire dynamics taking place there. During his two years and a half at mission, one of the main contributions was the expansion of the training sessions for the DLI's staff that entrusted them as worthy representatives abroad. Professional experience was something they brought back and implemented either in the classrooms or in their future curriculum training.
What was important to outline was the fact that Steffen stood not only as an extremely professional, dedicated, and responsible officer, but also as a loving and caring husband, and a proud father to four children. He took pride in talking about his eldest daughter, a happily married woman who brought joy to her father with two grandchildren. His second child, a son, is a sophomore at Texas University studying animal science. His third child, a 19-year-old son, is a church missionary, just as Steffen used to be. And his fourth son, a 14-year-old, enjoys playing the trombone and walking in his father's footsteps. Steffen's marriage has approached the impressive number of 26 years, and the woman that stood by him during all that time and made it a happy journey was his wife Lisa.
As a loving husband, he courteously expressed his gratitude for all her support along the way through; a simple but touching gesture during his retirement ceremony, such as a beautiful bouquet of flowers handed to her, accompanied by his grateful speech, stood proof of his good nature and generous personality. His heartfelt speech brought tears to the audience's eyes and left everyone speechless. Steffen successfully managed to mingle his professional profile with his personal aspects of life: "It is always good, when you get done with your day, to go home to an environment of special relationship, where you can relax and not worry about managing tasks."
As Steffen says - "If everything collapses into place ..." - he will continue his mission at DLI in a new capacity, as civilian instructor of English. The valued addition that he will represent to the DLI teaching environment will reflect the light of his previous expertise in the field of training and mentoring others. With a smile on his face, he remembered the academic years at West Point as a French teacher.
Steffen is a great professional that I personally look up to and consider one of the most motivating people I have met through my career so far. Many other students that will have an opportunity to come to DLI will be honored to meet Steffen and gain not only knowledge in the linguistic domain but also in the professional and personal ones as well.
Steffen sees DLI in 10 years as an emerging and highly technologically developed educational facility that is reflective of the population's diversity. He outlines empathy being extremely necessary and a core value for good communication, as is transparency and the ability to appreciate the other environmental variables that are occurring. "Focus first on your responsibilities, then on your rights" was his concluding message to DLI's staff and students as well.