CJ Stewart was born February 20th, 1989, in Bossier City, Louisiana. He was the second child and only son of Chuck and Robin Stewart. Shortly after going home, it was discovered that CJ was born with an illness known as Pyloric Stenosis, a stomach disorder not allowing food and other contents to pass through the small intestines. This was a family illness that was shared with his grandfather, Dugan Stewart, so the common procedure to repair CJ’s stomach was performed in March of 1989.
The surgery was thought to be successful but only lasted a week before problems resurfaced. A second surgery was performed, but that attempt also only lasted two days. CJ spent the next few weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit as doctors from around the country were consulted to determine the cause of his complications. Finally, a gastrojejunostomy surgical procedure was performed and shortly after his third surgery in just three months, CJ was able to return home for the second time, and this time for good. When thinking back to those first few months CJ laughs and says, “God was just preparing my family and me for what was in store for us down the road.”
During the first few years of CJ’s life, his family relocated several times for employment opportunity. During these transitions, he used sports as a constant for building relationships and learning about commitment and discipline, characteristics that would later guide him in the right direction. In 2001 they settled in Madison, Mississippi. CJ and his older sister Megan graduated from Madison Ridgeland Academy. He enrolled at Mississippi College as a freshman and pursued a degree in Criminal Justice with aspirations of attending Law School.
In his first year of college, CJ felt he wanted to do more with his life. “Most freshmen love being away from home and enjoy the freedom of college life, but I just wasn’t happy with where I was going,” he recalls. He felt for so long he had been just following ‘the norm’ and doing what was expected of an eighteen year old. It was in his college dorm room where he realized his long childhood yearning to become a soldier was not as far away as he may have expected. CJ discussed this with Army recruiters and family friends who had served in the US military themselves about the possibility of enlisting. He always felt supported by family and friends, but answered many questions regarding ‘why’ he would want to join when he had everything he needed right in front of him. His answer was simply, “I want to go” as the adventure and risk the military offered has always been appealing. CJ later described this as ‘God’s bait’ for getting him on His path for Him.
In June 2009, CJ left for Basic Training for the US Army as a Combat Medic. It was there at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he truly believed his life was on track with God’s plan for him. He went on to graduate top of his class being named the Distinguished Honor Graduate and received awards for Marksmanship and Physical Training. He attributes these accomplishments to his dedication and focus on God and God’s purpose for him. More rewarding than these honors to him was being an influential role model for his classmates. CJ used his leadership role as a class leader to help guide some of his classmate’s in their spiritual walk within a morally challenging environment. His attitude during difficult training in addition to daily life away from home was based on his continuous faith in Jesus Christ, and he excitedly shared with those close to him.
CJ was assigned to Bravo Company 1-502nd Infantry Regiment at
After several surgeries and several stops along the way from that battlefield in Afghanistan, CJ returned home to Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Father’s Day to see his parents for the first time. “Once I saw Momma and Dad, I knew that whatever was going to happen next, I’d be ok,” he remembers. Since that fateful day in June, he has endured 40 operations to salvage what was left of his arm. Surgeries were performed including titanium rods to replace bones, attaching his arm to his chest to replace vascular skin from his stomach area to his forearm, and replacing damaged nerves in his arm with functioning nerves from both legs. Each successful procedure was a miracle in its own right, but CJ would want everyone to know the true miracle that occurred is not ‘to’ his body, but rather ‘in’ his body.
From the first pictures taken just hours after injury, CJ has a smile on his face, and he attributes his positive attitude to God’s Grace. He does not hold regret or frustration regarding his decision to serve in the military and gives glory to God for providing him with a platform for what the future will hold. It was in the long months of recovery that he first thought of the idea to use this physical tragedy and spiritual testing to help others. “I can’t walk anywhere without people stopping and staring at my arm and asking ‘Man, what happened?’”
CJ openly and willingly shares his story with those who ask. He tells them about his trials and successes he experienced through a year and a half of rehabilitation. He discusses his trust in God’s Plan and explains whole heartedly that he has not lost anything through this experience, as nothing in this life was ours to begin with, but His alone.
He thanks God for saving his life and his arm through the skillful work of his doctors, but feels that during this experience; even more work has been done on his heart. He has utilized the time at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., to reflect on his life. It was there, that The CJ Stewart Foundation was born. He remembers telling a close friend “Man, you know how many people I could catch the attention of, by just simply telling them my story?” CJ has embarked on this journey with the help of so many close friends and family members to help share his story and touch others struggling with their own troubles.
CJ’s target population is today’s younger generation because he knows how hard life can be during that time and wants to show them love and support for whatever life throws at them. He hopes to do this by providing opportunity to build life skills and character through sport and adventure at Down Range, offering children and teens with activities they may not normally experience in everyday life. CJ knows first hand how these events can prepare one for everyday challenges, how small or large they may seem.
“My Greatest honor in this life is seeing how America responded to me after I was injured with nothing but love and encouragement.” He feels it is now his job, first and foremost as a follower of Christ Jesus, to serve others by sharing his story and helping them discover strength during difficult times. Second, to say “Thanks” to everyone who has helped him through his struggles and sacrifices, as there are many of his buddies and brothers in arms that are no longer here to see America’s response and the “Thank You” that CJ has for their sacrifice was the Ultimate One.