Stegherr’s battle zone now is a Loudoun County golf course that hugs an especially quiet stretch of the Potomac River. He earns $16 an hour guarding Trump National Golf Club, where members pay $75,000 just to join.
Before 9/11, Americans did not worry so much about random acts of terrorism, but now they find comfort in knowing that more than a million security guards — double the number in the nation’s workforce a decade ago — patrol shopping malls and power plants and work through the night to protect public spaces.
Falken Industries, a Manassas company that hired Stegherr, saw opportunity in the country’s new anxiety. In just eight years, it ballooned from zero to 150 guards, blanketing government buildings, embassies and corporate sites in Washington and its suburbs with guards trained for every conceivable disaster. The company protects bowling alleys and jewelry stores with the same kind of attention it gives its top-secret government customers.
But what kind of terrorist event could happen on a golf course, where the only sounds at night are crickets or a distant firecracker? Since passenger planes were turned into weapons, obscure possibilities have abounded. Stegherr’s rounds include close attention to a fenced area near the Potomac. Inside the chain-link wire is a water-filtration system — a piece of “critical infrastructure,” as it is known among homeland security types — that someone might view as a target.
Stegherr presses down on a golf cart accelerator and hums forward, looping around a course so familiar that he often kills the headlights and moves stealthily around the ponds and greens. He stops, waits, stares.
To stay focused through his long, lonesome shift, he counts deer, the running tally a score card for each night’s patrol.
“Two,” Stegherr says, and a big buck darts off into the woods.
His calling began to crystallize in the 10th grade at Apalachee High in Winder, Ga., when an announcement on the PA system led everyone to watch the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
They watched the twin towers fall — and fall again and again on TV — for hours. They watched the Pentagon burn, watched as its wall was charred in black.
In those first days of fear and resolve, he knew: He would go protect his country. At 17, he persuaded his parents to help him sign up for the Marines. “I’ve always been for the country, want to keep it safe. I figured, the more eyes, the better,” he says.
In Iraq, he learned that something can happen at any minute and that he must be ready. It is the quandary every service member faces, hoping for calm yet bracing for danger. His training makes him eager to see some action, at least once in a while.