By Melissa Grappone, Director of Corporate Communications, APFS
Holbrook, New York, April 24, 2013 – Corporal Christopher Levi served in the United States Army Infantry for four years starting in 2004 for two deployments — the first in Afghanistan as an 11C indirect fire infantryman from October 2006 to March 2007, followed by a tour of duty in Iraq from October 2007 to March 2008 as an intelligence gatherer and disseminator. His second tour was cut short when during a patrol to the Green Zone for a long overdue break his Humvee was hit by a roof-top bomber, seriously injuring him and others in his unit, resulting in the loss of both his legs from the mid-thighs down and part of his right hand. As a member of Team American Portfolios, Levi will be riding in this upcoming weekend’s Face of America Bike Ride.
At the start of the New Year I was introduced to Chris Levi at the corporate offices of American Portfolios Financial Services. It was his first day working with the financial services company and presumptuously I walked into his orientation with Human Resources to take up a matter with the director on the finer points of organizational job titles. Intrigued by the conversation, and a hankering to offer input, Levi, with artful acuity, cited a section out of the military’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to demonstrate how precisely every object, function and course of action in the military is defined; which is to say, for any associated person who has enlisted in the armed services, their life, or the impact of their actions on someone else’s life, depends on details and dogma; it is this regimen that kept Levi on course to grow up and become a responsible man serving his country and, subsequently, what kept him alive during his two tours of duty.
As an adolescent teenager the traditional educational paths from public school to college were not the best fit — or feel — for Levi. Were it not for his academic aptitude, his rebel-rousing ways would have expelled him from middle school a few months short of graduating; and, when it came time to enter high school he concedes the over-packed environment in his district was not the ideal setting for his success. When his parents threatened him with military high school if he didn’t straighten out, he called their bluff and said, “When do I leave?” Said Levi, “Everybody viewed it as a punishment and at some points I wanted to go through a wall and knock myself out but, I loved it and I thought it was the best thing for me.” Four years later Levi graduated from New York Military Academy as a lieutenant in charge of 40 other students for their academic and sports careers.
Subsequent admission into SUNY Albany got Levi through one year or what he describes as “13th grade.” Happily, his good academic standing enabled him to push up his intended enlistment planned after college into a new battalion of the Fourth Brigade, Tenth Mountain at Fort Poke, Louisiana. After nearly two years of training, Levi was deployed to Afghanistan at a remote fire base with 21 other soldiers in the eastern region of the country along the border of Pakistan. With a two-day drive to the next American post and no helicopter service during the winter months because of the surrounding mountains, their supplies were airdropped at high altitudes and frozen by the time they hit the ground. His role — the specificity apparent in his title and responsibilities — as an indirect fire infantryman (11C) for Fire Direction Center (FDC) in charge of 60 and 81 millimeter mortars, was something he loved doing because he was good at it.
“To aim these mortars you need math,” said Levi. In fact, such responsibilities would normally be assigned to a section or platoon sergeant but because of Levi’s strong math background he got the job.
In his second deployment Levi went to Iraq as an “intel guru”; that’s at least what it was called before it was officially documented in the SOP. In fact Levi’s information gathering techniques were used to create the job description. Said Levi, “There were four of us originally — one for each platoon — and everybody else got fired … I just had a way of being able to collect 10-digit grid coordinates, names, pictures, conversation topics and questions from the platoon leader to whoever he was talking to.”
With the average solider taking zero to one patrols a day, Levi was doing four to six on two hours of sleep to keep up with the amount of information being captured and delivered; he was instrumental in helping lock down his sector as a hit-free zone by taking out two crime families and an illegal ring that stole government oil resold to Iraqi civilians. As American Soldiers they were responsible not just for fighting the enemy but for helping Iraq rebuild their country. While Levi’s dedicated work paid off, the added patrols combined with sleep deprivation eventually caught up with him and he was forced to make it to the Green Zone so that he could recharge. Unbeknownst to him, the one patrol that would take him outside of his sector for some much needed R&R would be his last.
The details Levi gave of the patrol south of Sadr City, Iraq on March 17, 2008 and the ensuing hit to him and his comrades, as if he were watching it from a bird’s eye view, chronicled the eloquent precision of a well-rehearsed mission to control a hostile space and advance a convoy of wounded soldiers at lightning speed through sectors of a war zone to the nearest Forward Operating Base (FOB) for immediate medical attention. For Levi and his unit, that maneuver took 11 minutes – the national average being 12 – and the reason why he, everyone from his platoon in that Humvee, and so many other soldiers deployed in the Middle East are making it home disabled but alive.
“I’m not bitter because I got blown up in Iraq,” reflected Levi. “What we did was beneficial to the country we were in and it was beneficial to us because the Iraqis are stronger. Terrorists only exist in countries that are weak and not stable.” For Levi that one terrorist who changed his life got his just reward in his attempt to escape swimming across a sewage-filled creek. “The helicopter pursuing him got clearance to shoot; they killed him with a 30 millimeter canon neck-deep in human feces … He deserved what he got.”
The last four years since returning home from service to his country and his 15-month rehabilitation at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Levi has been in medical retirement trying to get back the order, discipline and control in his life that he thrived on during his military education and career. “They almost let me back in,” smiled Levi. “I would have loved it—and hated it. I wanted to be in the military field but I want to be active. That’s the only reason why I didn’t go back into the Army. I can’t sit at a desk and watch someone else do my dream job. It was too much of a tease.”
With a longtime aspiration to study finance and become a stock broker, Levi had the opportunity to meet American Portfolios CEO Lon T. Dolber through a colleague who was volunteering the use of his convertible sports car, which Levi was honored in, at a local Veterans Day parade last year. Levi mentioned he had a hand cycle donated to him that had been sitting in his garage, never used. From there, a friendship grew and they began riding together out on the south shore of eastern Long Island just when Dolber was training for his one-week stint in the 2012 Sea to Shining Sea cross country bike ride. Not ready to commit to any events at the time, Dolber convinced Levi to set a goal to ride in the upcoming 2013 Face of America bike ride.
Everything has seemingly come together for Levi. He’s working at a company in a field he believes can be personally and financially rewarding for him and in May he will be resuming his academic studies to complete his bachelor’s in business and finance.
Said Levi of his future plans, “I’ve always wanted to work in the stock market. I also want to have a family and have my family be very comfortable.”
In the meantime he’s finding a new order by staying active, cranking and cruising in his hand cycle with Face of America’s Team American Portfolios, meeting new friends, striking up conversations with curious and inquisitive young minds, and continuing his volunteer work supporting other disabled veterans through organizations like Building Homes for Heroes, Wounded Warriors and now World T.E.A.M. Sports.