Craig Stapleton


Maria Yassopoulos, Author

Craig Stapleton, otherwise know as “Commander,” teaches Naval Science at Santa Fe High in the NJROTC program. “Watching high school students mature and grow into young adults through the four years of high school makes me so happy,” he said.

Commander Stapleton attended Auburn University in Alabama, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, and later a master’s in business administration, and a master’s in education. Having participated in college ROTC, he received his Navy commission from the ROTC program at Auburn University at 23. He served in the Navy for 24 years.

Originally from New Jersey, Commander Stapleton lived in many places before moving to New Mexico 2011, such as Maryland, Florida, Alabama, Washington state and Tennessee.

Commander explained that he was driven to join the military in part because his dad was in the Air Force during the Korean War, but what really inspired him was his deep passion for flying jets. ¨I fell in love with flying on my first flight at the age of 5,” he said.

Commander earned his pilot’s license at 17. (He started flying lessons at 12.)

“Thinking about my peers from college working in cubicles while I was strapped into a high performance jet getting to fly high above the clouds, or hug the ground at 200 feet at 500 miles per hour, was the greatest feeling,” he said. “We used to joke that we couldn’t believe we got paid to do this.”

Commander found it comforting that he and his crew of four could rely on each other to do their jobs within the airplane and that they could successfully complete their missions, whether it was a training mission or a combat mission over Iraq. For example, Commander explained, “I flew strike missions from the aircraft carrier USS America” in an EA-6B Prowler. His squadron’s job was to provide electronic jamming of Iraqi radar so the bombers and fighters could reach their targets without getting shot down. “There were six aircraft carriers involved in Desert Storm, and ours was the only one to launch strikes from both the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf,” he added.

Commander loved the camaraderie of military life and said, “Everyone was like family. We worked, trained, and socialized together. Being in the military, I felt like we were something special and different from the rest of society.”

While in the Navy, Commander said he was able to do something different every day. He interacted with different cultures, saw amazing sights and got to travel the world. “During my career I have literally circumnavigated the globe,” he said.

Additionally, he loved being at sea. “The tranquility that comes from being in the middle of the ocean with nothing around you for hundreds of miles is humbling and peaceful,” he said. “Being at sea at night, there is no pollution to disrupt viewing the stars, and they are brighter than you can imagine.”


But not all the sights were  pretty. Commander said he also witnessed abject poverty in many different countries and maintains that there is no comparison to those who live in poverty in the United States. “Even our ‘poor,’ as bad and hard as it is for them in this country, have much, much more than most of the people in the rest of the world,” he said. “We are all truly blessed to live in the United States, and too few people realize how fortunate they are, not just in personal wealth but in freedoms.”

In 2011, Commander retired from the Navy and joined the staff at Santa Fe High. He said he is proud to be a member of the Civil Air Patrol, which does search and rescue, and he does some flight instructing on the side. He loves to fly single engine propeller airplanes.

“I still fly to this day and I love every minute of it,” he said.

In his time off, Commander loves to ride his motorcycle and spend time with his wife, to whom he has been married since 1987.