Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Gwinnett Fire Capt. Stoney Polite is an 18-year veteran of the Navy. He was recently honored as an "Angel of the Battlefield" in front of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the secretary general and other Washington, D.C., big wigs for his service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
DACULA -- This is the guy organizing the training of Gwinnett County's firefighting recruits: an 18-year veteran of the U.S. Navy, who has been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and still travels the world preparing Marines for what they'll see on the Middle East's front lines.
This is the medic who spent months in the Iraqi village of Sahl Sinjar, "removing the footprint" of America's military forces while in charge of a group of nine Marines -- a Navy man, in charge of Marines.
This is the Gwinnett County fire department captain who was recently honored as an "Angel of the Battlefield" in front of the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the secretary general and other Washington, D.C., big wigs.
This is Stoney Polite.
"Capt. Polite is a prime example of the caliber of men and women who are employed by the Gwinnett County Department of Fire and Emergency Services," spokesman Capt. Tommy Rutledge said.
"His actions, whether serving in the department or in the armed forces, demonstrate his commitment to helping others during times of greatest need, even if it means jeopardizing his own safety."
The Angels of the Battlefield award recognizes the 45-year-old for doing just that, even if Polite -- who spent more than 11 total months in Iraq and Afghanistan -- shows a reluctant gratitude while explaining the events that led to the recognition, which honors corpsmen and medics for their "dedication and commitment to service."
The way he tells it, Polite was a part of the last Marine battalion in Iraq. In charge of a diverse group of nine Marines, Polite and his crew were in the village of Sahl Sinjar breaking down a military installment as part of the extrication of troops.
"There was nothing out there," he said recently, in his office at Gwinnett's fire academy. "Sahl Sinjar is supposed to be where Satan hit the Earth when he was thrown from Heaven. It's that kind of stuff man. And if you're there, you can almost believe it."
One day, a convoy came into camp near the Syrian border to remove some of the military technology and weaponry Polite and his crew were dismantling. About six kilometers out of the base, they struck an IED, or improvised explosive device.
Leaving his vehicle, a Marine was shot in the leg. Polite responded.
"For the most part, he was in good shape," Polite said. "We wrapped him up, stabilized him, organized an (evacuation) for him."
The Angels of the Battlefield awards honor just one member of each branch of the military, as well as their corresponding reserve corps, each year. Since the East Atlanta native has technically been a Navy reserve since Desert Storm, Polite was, somewhat ironically, honored in that role.
With a seemingly heartfelt humility, and a bashfulness uncharacteristic of the charismatic father of three, Polite downplayed the honor he received in Washington.
"I'm glad with the way they presented it. They said, 'You are receiving this for all of the medics of Navy corpsmen and reserves,'" he said. "It was easier to accept that way. I didn't dive on a grenade or anything like that, or have to take oncoming fire in order to get to him, or anything like that."
"I appreciate it and everything like that, but there are so many medics out there who have done far more, or at minimum the same thing, that go unrecognized."
During his time in Afghanistan, Polite also toured the country teaching native armies and police forces "rudimentary" crash courses in medicine. This weekend, he's back overseas as part of a group that travels to different bases and helps troops be able to identify "their fellow Marines that are having (emotional) issues, especially on the front line."
Back home in Gwinnett, Polite is positioned over the fire department's recruit, EMT, fitness and lateral-entry programs, directly overseeing the guidelines and policies that are put in place to train the county's emergency personnel.
He calls himself the "grandpa" of the fire academy -- he gets to play the good guy with recruits and "let the instructors be mean to them and get them in line."
His coworkers call him something else.
"Stoney is a true hero," Rutledge said.