On Steven Baldwin’s first day of U.S. Army combat in Iraq in 2004, a rocket-propelled grenade hit his vehicle and blew off a fellow soldier’s leg. By the time he finished his tour, he had survived three blasts from improvised explosive devices. And he’d won an Army Commendation Medal with Valor for applying a tourniquet to save a fellow soldier’s life.
Baldwin, who is earning his Ph.D. in social work at Colorado State University, says his military service made him realize that his true calling is counseling.
“In the Army, I was already counseling and didn’t know it,” he says. “I was helping soldiers through hard times. There is a lot that goes on psychologically in war.”
The native of Astoria, Oregon, who identifies as Native American, grew up in a family that has a long history of commercial fishing and logging. His grandparents raised him from the time he was 6 years old.
“They gave me my work ethic,” says Baldwin, who joined the Army when he was 18.
Work ethic, indeed. After Baldwin’s service in Iraq, which involved fighting in major battles like Fallujah and Najaf as an infantry paratrooper and reconnaissance scout, he returned to the United States and set his sights on education. He earned an associate’s degree from Clatsop Community College in Astoria, a bachelor’s in communication and master’s in counseling from Western Oregon University, and a master’s in social work from Humboldt State University. He says getting his Ph.D. is the next logical step.
“I’ve always wanted to achieve the highest,” Baldwin explains. “I’m at level E-8 in the military, and E-9 is the highest rank. The Ph.D. is the highest you can get in education.”
‘Positive role model’
He plans to pursue an academic career, preferably at CSU, when he finishes his degree in 2018.
“Teaching is my passion,” Baldwin says. “I just want to be a positive role model.”
Judging by his community service, he’s already well on his way.
After Baldwin returned from Iraq, he served in the National Guard and performed humanitarian work in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina, when it was under martial law. He describes searching building after building — and finding bodies.
“Caskets from flooded cemeteries were floating all over, and there was a stench,” he recalls. “That was just as bad as Baghdad.”
He taught infantry tactics at the Oregon Military Academy at WOU, where he won the Delmer Dewey Award as the most outstanding senior male. After completing an internship at the Salem Veterans Center in Oregon, he worked as a therapist for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in Eureka, California. Baldwin has also provided individual and family counseling to indigenous tribes in northern California through United Indian Health Services, and taught Officer Candidate School at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs. He has nearly 20 years of military service and will be eligible to retire in June.
“Honestly, I just looked at the website, and there was a calling,” Baldwin says. “It seemed very veteran-friendly.”
At CSU, he’s worked as a veterans’ success coach with Adult Learner and Veteran Services, but he recently gave that up to take an adjunct faculty position teaching classes in the School of Social Work. Baldwin lists CSU faculty Vicky Buchan and John Gandy among those who have been most influential to him.
“John has been an incredible inspiration,” he says. “He’s definitely been a great mentor, and so has Vicky.”
“I have been in academia for over 40 years, and Steven is one of the most unique people I have ever met,” Gandy says. “His history and background are truly remarkable. His military service is very impressive, as is his professional background. His equine therapy work and commitment to this area is striking, as is his boundless energy. But what is rather amazing to me is how humble and unassuming he is.”
Baldwin says being a minority and a veteran gives him a good perspective on diversity that hopefully will serve him well teaching social work. His research interests include recidivism, addiction, mental health, ancestral diets, holistic medicine, indigenous studies — and equestrian therapy.
When he moved to Colorado, Baldwin brought his two horses and leased 33 acres south of Fort Collins for his fledgling Front Range Ranch & Rescue operation. He gains his certification from the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association this spring and hopes to start seeing clients in May. He would eventually like to provide addiction counseling and work with domestic violence offenders, in addition to veterans.
“Riding really helped me, and I wanted to give back, so I started this nonprofit,” Baldwin says. “And it’s not just about riding. You can talk to animals and say things you might not say to people.”
“In this day and time when people talk so freely about themselves and their accomplishments, Steven truly stands out,” Gandy concludes. “His service to this country, his commitment to helping people in need and his commitment to social work are remarkable. His humble nature, accomplishments in life and lack of focus on himself are strengths I will always remember.”