Photo by Courtesy C.J. Stewart
C.J. Stewart, 23, was serving in Afghanistan as a medic in the Second Brigade Combat Team of the 101st Airborne Division in 2010 when he became the victim of an rocket-propelled grenade attack. The RPG hit a wall near him, sending 10 pieces of the wall through his arm. Stewart underwent 40 surgeries to save his arm. Hospitalized for five months after being injured, Stewart tried to decide what was next for him.
"I felt I still had work left to do, even thought I couldn't do what I had done before," Stewart said. He decided to dedicate himself to inspiring others. "I got to speak at schools and church groups about my story and inspire (kids) to get through difficult situations in their own lives, whether it was family-related, financial or related to disease."
Stewart soon started the C.J. Stewart Foundation and began a project to build a sports and adventure camp in Madison called "Down Range," which is dedicated to helping disadvantaged and at-risk youth. The New Orleans-based Altria company contacted Stewart and offered him a $13,000 grant for the project when an employee heard his story at a conference six weeks ago.
"The goal at Down Range will be to give children opportunities," Stewart said. "We will have things like a paintball course, an obstacle course and a ball field for sports. The idea is to teach teamwork and other important life skills, to teach about overcoming adversity, help them learn that they have value and can overcome. We want to help at-risk youth, children from foster homes, from broken homes or who are in the legal system learn that they can overcome their situation."
Born and raised in Louisiana, Stewart moved to Madison in 2001. He graduated from Madison Ridgleland Academy in 2007. Stewart attended Mississippi College before entering the military and is back there now, majoring in administration of justice and minoring in Christian studies.
Stewart entered the military in 2007. He was motivated by a desire for travel and adventure and inspiration from his family's history of service. Stewart's great grandfather lost his leg in World War II in the Philippines, and both of Stewart's grandfathers were drafted. One was drafted toward the close of the Korean War and the other served between the Korean and Vietnam wars. Stewart had been in the army for a year before the attack. He received a purple heart, a combat action badge and combat medical badge and deployment ribbons for service and being injured.
A groundbreaking ceremony and check presentation for Down Range is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 8 a.m. at the Parkway Pentecostal Church (1620 Mannsdale Road, Madison). Madison Mayor Mary Hawkins Butler is presiding over the ceremony and will present the grant check from Altria. For more information, contact the C.J. Stewart Foundation at 601-624-7461 or visit the website at cjstewart.org.