The moral creed by which Sgt. 1st. Class Stephen B. Cribben lived and served could be summed up in the words the Fort Carson Green Beret chose to have indelibly inked on his skin.
One tattoo invoked the poem "Invictus," by William Ernest Henley;" another, Theodore Roosevelt's "The Man in the Arena"; a third, the St. Crispin's Day speech from William Shakespeare's play "Henry V."
"'We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,'" said Cribben's widow, Shelly, quoting the Bard's famous lines, about sacrifice and fellowship, that so resonated with her late husband; she spoke at a Tuesday memorial service that drew hundreds of Stephen Cribben's friends, loved ones and extended military family to the main campus of New Life Church in Colorado Springs.
A highly trained career Army man of almost 15 years, Sgt. Cribben was killed in combat Nov. 4 in Afghanistan's eastern Logar Province. After completing Special Forces training in December 2014, Cribben was assigned to Fort Carson's Green Beret unit, where he was a senior communications sergeant.
A 33-year-old father of two young sons, Cribben was born in Rawlins, Wyo. and raised in Simi Valley, Calif., where he joined the Army soon after high school graduation, in 2002. Prior to his deployment to Afghanistan in September, he had served overseas three times with the 716th Military Police Battalion - in Egypt in 2005, Afghanistan in 2006 and Iraq in 2007 - and had been awarded the Bronze Star Medal.
Stephen didn't want his mom to worry about him, though. When she asked how he got the Bronze Star, awarded for heroism in combat, he always gave an edited-for-mother version, said his dad, Joseph Cribben, speaking at the memorial.
"He convinced Mom that it was OK. He was never in any danger. Everybody gets them," said Joseph, whose son's many awards and decorations also include three Army Commendation Medals and nine Army Achievement Medals.
When, at the rehearsal dinner before his wedding to high school sweetheart Shelly, Stephen spied his military buddies regaling Mom and Dad with recollections of what actually occurred that day in combat, he snapped into action.
"Stephen, from across the room, could see this happening - and Mom's eyes getting bigger. He came sprinting across room, 'No don't tell my mom that.' Too late," said Joseph. While his son was a warrior, he also was "a compassionate and loving man who worked hard to ease the suffering and pain of others."
On occasion, that mission was carried out in more indirect ways.
"I want to extend my sincere apologies for any part we played in him pranking you," said his mother, Leslie, of a son who had something of a reputation for pulling - and being the willing butt of - practical jokes.
Though Stephen indulged his sense of humor to a legendary degree, his reputation as a duty-driven soldier was one that drew the admiration of his team members in combat, who shared their thoughts in a video memorial played at the service.
“He was doing the job he loved, with the people he loved, for the country he loved,” Leslie said.
After the memorial and a reception at New Life, Sgt. Cribben was interred, in a private family burial service, at Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver.