The word "turbo" conjures up images of high-speed, high-powered, full-force, super-charged devices.
It's the perfect nickname for Lock Haven native Stephen Toboz, Jr., a retired Navy SEAL who's still very active with the United States Navy and its elite, special forces. He's a high-energy guy who is living life to the fullest, each and every day.
The 39-year-old is an advanced 'special operations' training manager for the Navy. He won't go into much more detail about what he does, but suffice it to say, it's work that's a critical part of the SEAL program training. His own career as a Navy SEAL, and how he got to where he is today, has been quite a journey.
Stephen Toboz Jr.
Stephen “Turbo” Toboz back in Afghanistan for a second tour of duty just nine months after having his lower leg amputated.
Turbo is shown in his Navy uniform.
Born and raised in Lock Haven, Turbo (only his family calls him Steve these days) was a graduate of Lock Haven High School's class of 1987. He says sports were an important part of his upbringing.
"I always worked out...played baseball and football, wrestled, and was in the gym at school after class. I also wrestled at Clarion University for a year. Then I transferred back to Lock Haven and went to college here for a couple years. But I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, so I quit."
Turbo says it was his parents who suggested the military might be a good course, so he joined the Navy in 1991 and attended Electronic Technician 'A' school at Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois. He says someone there suggested he might want to go to BUD/S school (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training).
"I wasn't so sure about that, so I read the book Rogue Warrior by Richard Marcinko to check it out," says Turbo of Marcinko's best-selling autobiography that details his Naval career as a SEAL and counter-terrorism expert. "I thought it was all pretty cool, so I took the bull by the horns. I've been lovin' it ever since."
It was in BUD/S school that Turbo got his nickname.
"I guess they called me Turbo because I was always running and being energetic. I was someone who was hyper even before we went on our seven-mile swim in the morning. I also ran a sub six-minute mile for 10 miles at Sniper School. I thought it was great!"
After BUD/S training, Petty Officer Toboz was assigned to SEAL Team Eight. He served tours with the Navel Special Warfare Development Group and the Detachment Little Creek Reconnaissance Division, neither of which he can say much about. But, his areas of expertise include sniping, close-quarters battle, breaching, skydiving, and combat diving. He can say that he's been deployed to all parts of the world for a range of missions, including combat missions in Bosnia and Afghanistan. And, he says his team's training was constant and the camaraderie among the men unparalleled.
"It's huge tough, crazy," says Turbo of his life as a SEAL. "That's why we are the way we are," he adds, referring to the over-the-top, bring-it-on approach he and his fellow "brothers" have.
In March of 2002, Turbo was part of a mission code-named Operation Anaconda, where the U.S. and allied Afghan military attempted to destroy al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in the Shahi-Kot Valley and Arma Mountains southeast of Zormat. It was one of the first large-scale battles of the war in Afghanistan.
During the operation, Turbo was part of a six-man team that had flown back into an enemy stronghold atop a mountain to rescue a captured teammate. The Chinook helicopter in which they were flying was shot by small arms fire, but managed to land safely. However, as the team left the chopper, they were caught up in an ambush.
Turbo and his fellow soldiers engaged their attackers until ordered by their team leader to break contact. As they were withdrawing, Turbo was hit by automatic weapons fire, which shattered his lower left leg.
"I couldn't walk, so I crawled," recalls Turbo. "It was negative 20 degrees, there was three feet of snow, and we were on top of a twelve-thousand-foot mountain. We continued to fight for about 18 hours. We were getting mortared, hand grenaded and shot at. We couldn't extract from where we were, so we traveled down about a mile to where they could come in and get us."
"I was frozen solid from my knees down...my hands, too," says Turbo, adding that the pain was intense.
However, he refused morphine so he could preserve his security posture. "I lost a lot of blood, about three liters, but the cold actually saved my life. If it had been warm, I'd have bled out. What I remember most is that I was literally and physically fighting for my life."
There were a number of casualties, including several of Turbo's close friends and fellow SEALS. The enemy losses were significant. Turbo's leg was so badly injured he opted to have a below-the-knee amputation so he could wear a prosthesis. During his hospital stay, he received a call from President Bush, who promised the two of them would someday go for a run.
"He's getting a bit older now, so that hasn't happened," laughs Turbo. "But I did see him a couple years ago at an Army-Navy football game and gave him a big ole' kiss!"
Nine months after his leg was amputated, Turbo went back to Afghanistan. He said the tour was an attempt to soothe his fears.
"It didn't work well," says Turbo. "I was only 95 percent. I didn't want to jeopardize anyone's life because I couldn't be 100 percent, so that's why I'm doing what I do now...to give back and hopefully help save one of my brothers lives. If I can do that, it's all worth it."
Turbo's life has taken some amazing turns since then. He was awarded a Silver Star for valor during Operation Anaconda, the Purple Heart, a Navy Commendation with valor for operations in Bosnia, two Navy Achievement medals, a Combat Action Ribbon, and numerous other awards and citations.
In 2004, Turbo became only the tenth recipient, and the only Navy SEAL, to receive the national Defender of Freedom Award, presented annually by the Freedom Alliance to an outstanding individual who, in the face of adversity, exemplifies faith, courage and fidelity to the Constitution and the principles of freedom.
Calling him an "American hero in the War on Terror," Marine Corps Lt. Col. Oliver North, who presented the award, said Turbo was being honored for his "extraordinary heroism" and "immeasurable courage" in combat. He continued, stating, "Stephen was critically injured while rescuing one of his fallen SEALS during Operation Anaconda in the mountains of Afghanistan. He and his fellow warriors engaged in a firefight in below-freezing temperatures to recover their comrade."
Turbo and North have since become fast friends. So much so, Turbo says "Oli" will probably write the preface to a book he's currently writing.
"It's been six years in the making," says Turbo of what he says is mostly an autobiography with emphasis on the tragic events at Roberts' Ridge (the Afghani mountainside since named in memory of fellow SEAL, Petty Officer First Class Neil Roberts, who the SEAL team had flown back to rescue). "It's going to be titled 'Long Live the Brotherhood' and hopefully will be out next year."
"I use all nicknames in the book," adds Turbo, who feels the media at times provides too much detail on missions. "I don't say anything that would give away any secrets - I won't jeopardize my comrades' lives. I do hope the book motivates people."
Turbo received another military award for his role in Operation Enduring Freedom, presented by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani during the annual "Tunnel to Towers Run." The 3.1 mile race through the City's streets honors the memory of all of the firefighters, police and emergency medical services workers who performed their duty on 9/11.
He's given a lot of motivational speeches - more than a hundred to date - and he's also gone back to BUD/S school as an honorary guest instructor.
"I got to run with the class," says Turbo. "Normally, there's a huge drop-out rate during Hell Week. But that was the week I was there, and drop-outs were very low. I'd like to think no one wanted to let me down. They were running with two legs and I was doing it with one."
Turbo and his girlfriend Linda have a home in Virginia Beach, Va., that they share with three dogs and a ferret. He makes it back to central Pennsylvania now and again to see his family, hunt, and visit friends. His father many people will remember as retired state police trooper Steve Toboz, and his mother Glenda worked for Keystone Central School District as a special education assistant at the former Lock Haven High School and Central Mountain High School. Turbo's younger brother Shawn and his wife Cathy have two children, Seth and Kyla. Shawn takes after his father and serves as a sergeant with the Pennsylvania State Police.
Glenda has been known to say of her sons, "They give me ulcers," but she and her husband are obviously both very proud of their children's accomplishments.
As for what's next in his life, Turbo says, "I hope to keep writing after this book. It's fun and it's making me smarter - I'm still learning every day.
And of his "day job" as a training manager for Special Ops, "I'll be there till the day I die - it's the best job in the world. There's the training aspect and I still get to go out on a few missions here and there," says Turbo, who then winks and adds with a laugh, "but don't tell my mother!"