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Army staff sgt. ‘pays it forward’

Army Staff Sgt. Steven Atlas has tried to live by one philosophy: “Pay it forward.”

Not only has this creed guided his decisions in his 40 years of living, but he has shared it with fellow service-members throughout his 16 years in the military. The creed is simple; if someone helps you, then in return, you should try to help someone else.

The title of this philosophy may have come from a movie, but his actions and the people they affect are real.

Atlas grew up in a single-parent home, and at an early age was forced to become an adult faster than many of his friends.

“My mom and dad separated when I was really young, so my mom had to raise me and my three sisters without any help,” said Atlas, a computer systems maintainer in Company C, 412th Aviation Support Battalion. “Being brought up in a predominantly female household meant that I had to play the role of big brother, and sometimes dad, to my sisters. This was something that a lot of my friends didn’t have to experience and helped me to mature at an early age.”

Being forced into this role wasn’t the biggest obstacle he would face as a young man; he also was forced to watch as two of his sisters lost their battles with cancer.

“My older sister passed away when I was in junior high, and my younger sister passed away when I was going into my freshman year of high school,” the Chicago native said. “Having to help take care of my sisters while they were dealing with the chemotherapy and being hospitalized so much forced me to look at things in a more adult perspective. I was never that kid who was just able to sit back and play video games or just go outside and play whenever I wanted.”

Taking care of his sisters, he said, was something that motivated him to do better in life instead of getting sucked into the trouble found throughout his neighborhood.

“Growing up on the south side of Chicago, I learned that if you weren’t careful you could easily find yourself in a bad situation,” Atlas said. “I think I owed it to my mom, if not myself, to be the first one of her children to graduate from high school and go on to do something positive, because she saw so much bad stuff throughout her life.”

After graduating from high school, he chose to put his goal of joining the military on hold to help support his family while his mother went back to school to get a degree. He got a job working in a restaurant owned by his uncle to help support his mother and youngest sister.

“Once she completed her degree, I went to her and said, ‘This is my time. I want to join the Army, and I feel this is my time to do it,’” Atlas recalled. “She didn’t want me joining at that time, because it was [during the peak] of Desert Shield/Desert Storm; I told her that there was never a ‘good time’ to join, because the Army’s job is to fight wars, and if you’re not fighting, you’re training to fight.”

His mother earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology and worked as a counselor, helping unwed teenage mothers in Chicago for many years

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