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    Living The Unforgiving Minute – Kevin “Jack” Steuterman

    By Tom Dalluge

    Kevin Jack Steuterman was a young man who had served his country as an officer for eight years on active duty in the United States Air Force.  He died suddenly in an avalanche in Utah in January of 2021 at the age of 31.  His passing hit me hard, and I found myself unable to articulate the jumble of feelings in my head and heart for days.  Memorial Day 2021 had a sharper edge as I contemplated the life of an old neighbor who left us far too soon.  

    Captain Kevin Steuterman July 2016

    I knew Kevin while he grew up in the house next door.  He was everything parents could ask for.  He had been born in Florida but moved as his family ascended the corporate ladder living in Connecticut, Georgia, and Germany, before settling in the Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta.  From his parents, Craig and Kim Steuterman, he was endowed with a keen intellect, a superior set of values, and a strong faith. Kevin was anchored by his favorite scripture – Isaiah 40:31 – “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint”.  

    Captain Kevin Steuterman July 2016

    His older brother Colin shared a challenging formative experience as elementary students in Germany, where they bonded as they struggled to learn the language.  That bond would be tested as all siblings’ bonds are by the maturation process but would deepen as Colin married and had a daughter to whom Kevin would be a devoted and thoughtful uncle.   

    Kevin was a standout high school athlete whose high school coach related would have been a highly rated offensive line recruit had he been two inches taller than his 6’2 frame.  Kevin was also a natural-born leader.  On the trek home from the nearby elementary school, Kevin would be surrounded by classmates and was always at the center.    

    At Louisiana State University, Kevin joined the ROTC program much like his aunt Major General Erika Steuterman had done earlier at Purdue University.  The years at LSU were marked by accomplishments and accolades.  But in his sophomore year, he faced a significant challenge to his life goals. 

    More than anything, Kevin wanted to fly jets. Top Gun had been a favorite movie growing up, and while still in high school, he had begun taking flying lessons which led to a pilot’s license.  Though the news was not good, Kevin had a subtle but marked color deficiency.  Examining every possible angle, Kevin memorized the color test and seriously considered a gene modification procedure that offered a chance at correcting his vision.  Eventually, Kevin recommitted himself to becoming the very best candidate in the program, pilot or not.  He became the top-rated cadet at physical endurance tests and commanded the corps as a senior.  

    Kevin (right) with Asa Lambert (left) on the Appalachian Trail

     

     

    While at LSU, Kevin became fast friends with another ROTC cadet Asa Lambert, whose life story was the opposite of his comfortable upbringing.  Asa and Kevin developed a bond that would endure for the next 13 years.  Asa recalled they were like “iron sharpening iron”.  The two supported each other through early career decisions and forks in the road.  Later, when Asa graduated from Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Kevin was a proud attendee.  At graduation, Kevin was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force.  

    The Air Force took a standout and made him even better by assigning the new officer to various cutting-edge assignments.  The DSCOVR satellite, which was launched in 2015, was one of the early projects.  Another early project involved a collaboration between the military and SpaceX on the triumphant return landing and reuse of rocket boosters.  A later deployment saw him involved in the development and assembly of MOAB, the Mother of All Bombs, used in Afghanistan in 2017.  Kevin had a rare gift for bridging the gaps between technologists and military leaders and served as a human middleware in keeping parties in communication and projects on track.  This experience also whetted a lingering dream from childhood of going to the moon.  His aunt, General Steuterman, felt that his potential as an officer was unlimited and the lunar trip likely.  The retired general described her nephew as an “old soul” who embodied earlier than most the central tenets of the Air Force Core Values – integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do, which he melded with a protective fierceness, intensity, and pure intent.  Kevin was the complete package and possessed the widely sought “right stuff”.

    The intensity and drive he had brought to his studies and career developed its own second rocket stage in this period.  Always intellectually curious, his quest for knowledge grew, and he read voraciously on numerous subjects.  He also pressed for personal improvement in everything.  Learning to scuba dive wasn’t enough; he became a master diver.  Improving his skill with weapons led to receiving a sniper level accreditation, and developing survival skills led him to become an instructor in this field.  More important, he rededicated himself to friendships and deepened the bonds with close friends and family.  

    This period of self-discovery would lead to a personal rebranding of sorts.  Kevin Steuterman began going by his middle name Jack in part to honor his grandfather.  As Jack, he refined and honed himself, becoming a more complete person.  In June 2020, Captain Jack Steuterman retired from the Air Force and began a career as a program manager for Grumman Northrup.  Grumman valued the talents he possessed and entrusted him with significant responsibility.    

    Jack’s Squared with Grandfather Jack Steuterman

    In May 2020, Jack met Karissa, who would become his soulmate and fiancée.  Both had been through disastrous first marriages and were gun shy.  But they shared a passion for spreadsheets, classical music, finance, and art.  Jack met Karissa at a point in his life where he was ready and able to share himself with another person.  

    Always a planner, Jack had developed a set of life goals and had an intermediate two-year plan.  In November of 2020, Jack related to his father that perhaps his two-year plan was in for some significant modification.  Jack was having his dream home built and would move in January.  

    On January 8, 2021, Jack and Karissa, both avid skiers, decided to ski an area outside the Park City resort.  They had each skied or snowboarded this run separately but never together.  It would be a new bond between them.  Eager as always, Jack was the first one down any slope, and on this day, he headed down on his snowboard, followed by Karissa on skis.  

    As they descended, the snowpack gave way, and an avalanche roared down the mountain.  Karissa was spared.  Jack, always prepared, was wearing a homing device that enabled rescuers to find him quickly but to no avail.     

    Events like this have no earthly explanation and are impossible for mere human beings to understand. 

    My initial reaction was to recall a stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”

    If you can fill the unforgiving minute

      With sixty seconds worth of distance run,

    Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

         And-which is more-you’ll be a Man, my son!

    Over the ensuing weeks, this verse has seemed even more appropriate as friends and family have reiterated the list of life goals and completed most of the items.  His life filled the unforgiving minute with more distance than many twice his age.  We are left to ponder those goals not yet articulated that would have been added and also accomplished.  We mourn for the family and the close friends seeking to fill a morass in their souls.  

    We are left to wonder if Kevin or Jack – few personalities are so prominent they require two names would have accomplished that dream of going to the moon, which guided his joining the Space Force Reserve program.  We find limited sources for comfort when such potential is taken suddenly.  We celebrate that he left us doing something he loved.  

    I spoke with Asa Lambert on a clear, crisp Northern Michigan winter day, the sun radiating off the snow in the pasture while the brilliant cobalt of East Grand Traverse Bay shimmered.  Asa related a story of Kevin speaking to him while driving to the memorial service in January.  The voice had calmed Asa.  As he finished, a bald eagle flew by not fifty yards away.  The eagle dipped its wings reverentially.  Lambert was not surprised ‘that’s Kevin; he always wanted to be an eagle.’ I remembered the verse from Isaiah and had to agree.  

    While many visit cemeteries to remember loved ones, I will be scanning the sky looking for the eagle, thinking of Kevin Jack, thanking him for his service, and pondering the imponderables of life.  I will also remember a life that burned with energy, excitement, love of family and friends and rededicate myself to the principles he held dear.  It is what he would want, and it is what we as the living must do.  

    Kevin Jack will undoubtedly continue to soar on the wings of eagles.