The following is the eighth in a series of profiles about Bureau of Diplomatic Security employees, contractors, military personnel, and host nation security personnel who lost their lives providing a secure environment for the conduct of American diplomacy.
Currently, 144 individuals have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty throughout the Bureau’s 100-year history. They are honored on the Diplomatic Security Memorial at DS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. For more information, visit www.dsmemorial.state.gov
Today, more than a decade after his death, the memory of Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) Special Agent Stephen Eric Sullivan lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew him—and those who never had the chance to—through memorials, plaques, and commemorative events throughout the world. Special Agent Sullivan and three U.S. security contractors were killed September 19, 2005, in Mosul, Iraq, when their motorcade was attacked by a suicide bomber.
Known to many as “Steve” or “Sully,” Special Agent Sullivan is memorialized overseas at “Camp Sullivan,” in Kabul, Afghanistan, the State Department’s military guard camp; and in an area of the Bagdad International Airport bearing his name. Visitors to the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area can learn more about Special Agent Sullivan through memorials at the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) headquarters and at the State Department’s Harry S Truman building, as well as the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Over the years, his memory has been honored in his hometown of Westborough, Massachusetts, at 5K memorial runs, through ceremonies during National Police Week, and other commemorations.
But these memorials and ceremonies have captured only a small part of the life, contributions, and dedication of Stephen Sullivan who, in his three years with Diplomatic Security, had volunteered to serve in two of the most dangerous countries in which the State Department operates—Afghanistan and Iraq. Shortly after his death, Assistant Secretary of State Richard J. Griffin remembered Stephen as one of DSS’ bravest and most committed agents, “the kind of agent his DS colleagues wanted on their team…a true American hero who dedicated his life to helping others.”
Before joining DSS as a special agent, Stephen served in the U.S. Marines as a field radio operator. Following his service in the Marines, he became a residential advisor to children with special needs for the Devereau Foundation in Massachusetts. In 1993 he joined the U.S. Navy as a hospital corpsman, became a national registered emergency medical technician, and was an administrative assistant to the chairman of the Internal Medicine Department of the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. Following his honorable service in the Navy, he worked with at-risk youth as a standards officer at the San Diego Job Corps Center.
Stephen joined DSS in 2002, served in the Miami Field Office, and then became an assistant regional security officer in Kabul, Afghanistan. In 2005, he became an assistant regional security officer in Baghdad, and was on temporary assignment as the acting regional security officer in Mosul when he was killed.
During the week following his death, the Secretary of State directed that the flag at the State Department’s Harry S. Truman building be flown at half-staff in honor of Special Agent Sullivan and remain so until his funeral on September 30, 2005, in Westborough, Massachusetts. Dozens of State Department and DS colleagues joined his family and friends at the funeral, and tributes flowed in—one friend remembering him as a “good agent and a good man.” Another friend from Kabul posted online, “Sully, I was truly saddened by your loss. You have given your life to your country, your fellow agents, and your family. Always the trickster, I hope you are at peace, my brother. We had some good and crazy times.”
Across the world, other ceremonies honored Special Agent Sullivan shortly after his death. During a service at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, four memorial chairs, representing Sullivan and the three men killed with him—David Robert Shephard, Kenneth Demille Webb, and Peter Jay Tocci—were arranged according to a long-standing military tradition. DSS tools of the trade—a ballistic vest, a protective helmet, a rifle and special military and embassy Challenge Coins—were placed on and around each chair. Special Agent Sullivan’s chair also displayed his special agent badge. In Afghanistan, security contractors and DSS special agents who had served with Special Agent Sullivan lined the steps and flanked the podium during a memorial ceremony at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Four months after he died, on January 19, 2006, in a memorial ceremony at the State Department, more than 600 family members, colleagues, friends, and other federal law enforcement and government officials watched as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice posthumously awarded Special Agent Sullivan the Thomas Jefferson Star for Foreign Service. The award recognizes individuals who, while traveling or serving abroad on official business, are killed or incur a serious illness or injury that results in death, permanent incapacity, or disability. His parents, Diane and Robert Sullivan, accepted the award on Special Agent Sullivan’s behalf, and they were joined by Special Agent Sullivan’s sisters, Erin and Shauna.
In presenting the award Secretary Rice said, “Those who knew Stephen best, praise his dedication to friends, his service to America, and his unfailing devotion to the safety of others. He wanted to live and work wherever he could make the biggest difference in people’s lives. He embraced the opportunity to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he was eager to play his part in helping their long-suffering peoples to build a future of hope for themselves and their nations.”
She added, “We see in Stephen, in the way he lived his life, the magnanimous spirit of a man who lent his strength to all who needed it most. …May we, the American people, and especially the men and women of the State Department, forever celebrate Stephen’s life in the way we live our own.”