TAMPA — Tampa native Steve Luhrsen overcame a difficult childhood and a life-altering wound in Afghanistan to find his way to a second career of love and service.
He's paying it forward with a nonprofit effort aimed at helping Marines, but he took a long and winding path to arrive at the place where he could be of service instead of seeking support.
The hardships started early in Luhrsen's South Tampa home where he struggled to have a positive relationship with his father. Luckily, outside forces provided a respite from the horrors at home.
Little League coaches Dicky Whiteside and Jim Hodges, cognizant of the young boy's problems, helped Steve grow as a ball player and a person. Their loving leadership proved to be a cool drink of water to his thirsty young heart.
Luhrsen found more mentors after joining the Boy Scouts at age 12. Ross J. Ferlita and Richard S. Clarke Jr. introduced the concept of leading with honor, loyalty and humility.
In high school, Luhrsen's relationship with his father worsened. He had few friends and his grades were poor. But once again, fate worked its way on the teenager, steering him toward the rigid discipline and camaraderie of the U.S. Marine Corps. The lessons he learned in scouting helped provide the foundation for his later ascension in the military.
"I ended up in the Marines quite by accident," Luhrsen said. "In April of my senior year, I decided to skip school. While on my way to the parking lot, the dean of boys intercepted and escorted me to the auditorium where the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test was being offered. I sat down and filled in the bubble sheet with answers"
The Marine recruiter checked the answers, smiled and told Luhrsen, "You're qualified."
Marine recruit training at Parris Island, S.C., renowned for its rigor, was actually a welcomed reprieve from his dysfunctional family. Drill instructors were hard, but he felt he had found his real home.
"I learned how to live in interdependence with my fellow Marines," Luhrsen said. "We loved each other in the very best sense of that phrase."
A year after boot camp, Luhrsen was visiting his old high school and met a pretty senior named Jennifer. The young Marine knew he had found a lifelong partner and they were married less than two years later. The couple had four children while moving 20 times during Luhrsen's career.
Starting out as a rifleman, Luhrsen rose steadily through the ranks and eventually became a lieutenant colonel. In April 2011, a convoy he was leading was hit by a 100 pound improvised explosive device, or IED. Luhrsen was wounded and was awarded a Purple Heart. Steve prefers not to dwell on his wounds and personal recovery. He focused more on offering care and compassion toward his fellow Marines that experienced far more life-altering injuries from the explosion.
He finished his active-duty service at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. After retiring in 2014, Luhrsen started asking hard questions about what he should do with the rest of his life. He knew love — for Christ, Marines and their families — would play some part. In April of 2014, he accepted an invitation to help wounded Marines transition back to civilian life.
In the Wounded Warrior Regiment, the motto is, "Etiam in Pugna" or "Still in the Fight." He encouraged his Marines to search their hearts for the highest and best object of their love, orient there and move out.
Shortly thereafter, Luhrsen took his own advice and began training with the Tun Tavern Fellowship, a network of Christians in and around the Marine Corps comprised of men and women who believe that it is the call of every Christian to make disciples, from one-on-one mentoring to small groups. With this commitment, Steve and Jennifer became missionaries.
Now Steve and Jennifer are moving back to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where they will continue to give their love to Marines and Marine families.
"Steve's war wounds slowed him down enough for God to catch up." Jennifer said.
The Luhrsens look forward to continuing with Tun Tavern Fellowship. Having served corps members and their relatives while in uniform for more than 30 years, they hope to love Marines and Marine families in this new capacity for the next 30 years.
Contact Michael Merino at [email protected]