Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone — promoted two ranks and awarded the Purple Heart and Airman's Medal for his heroism when he and two friends sprang into action in August to disarm a terrorist about to massacre dozens on a train heading to Paris — plans to leave the Air Force in 2016.
His enlistment is up in November, and he plans to leave then — if he hasn't already been medically discharged, "which is a high possibility," he said in a Wednesday interview with Air Force Times.
After leaving the Air Force, Stone hopes to pursue a degree in international relations at the University of California Los Angeles or the University of Southern California. He said the events of this year helped encourage him to get an international relations degree.
Stone said he's always had an interest in other cultures and countries and how they operate. And after the attack, meeting people like Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, and seeing the job they do further piqued his interest.
Stone left the door open to coming back into the Air Force as an officer after graduation, if he's interested.
On Monday, Stone, a medical technician at the 60th Medical Operations Squadron at Travis Air Force Base in California, returned to work for the first time since the thwarted train attack, the whirlwind of publicity that followed, and his convalescent leave after being stabbed in a brawl outside a Sacramento, California, bar in October.
Stone, Army Spc. Alek Skarlatos of the Oregon National Guard, and their friend Anthony Sadler became international heroes and celebrities after thwarting the train attack.
They were lauded by President Obama and French President Francois Hollande, received the French Legion of Merit, and the Air Force announced then-Airman 1st Class Stone would receive a rare double-promotion, the Purple Heart for his serious thumb injury sustained during the attack, and the Airman's Medal, the Air Force's highest non-combat award.
But in the fight outside the Sacramento bar, he was seriously stabbed four times in the heart, lung, liver and back. He nearly died, and doctors had to perform open-heart surgery to save his life.
"Despite all my injuries, it's been the best year of my life," Stone said. "I'm just thankful I'm alive, and that I have most of my health."
Stone spoke of the overwhelming appreciation he and his friends received from the French people, and how French and American officials helped them and their families in the days after the attack.
They got courtside seats at a Los Angeles Lakers game in November — “we had better seats than [boxing champion] Floyd Mayweather,” Stone said — and hung out with basketball superstar Kobe Bryant before the game.
Stone and Sadler also got to spend more than an hour with Bryant in the Lakers’ locker room afterwards. (Skarlatos, Stone said, had to leave at halftime to rehearse for the final rounds of Dancing with the Stars.)
"We were just back there, talking to him, chilling, while he iced his shoulder," Stone said. "Kobe came up and gave us high-fives after he hit a clutch three. He's a really nice guy, a class act. He gave us wisdom and advice on how to handle things and go forward from here" — though Stone declined to share Bryant's advice.
Stone even appeared on Jimmy Kimmel's late night talk show and received a brand-new Camaro.
But the notoriety Stone and his friends earned hasn't all been good. About two weeks ago, he said someone called Skarlatos' father and threatened the three of them.
Stone would not share many details about the call or what was said, but he said, "It was a pretty obvious threat. We're not going to take it lightly. They knew things about us that normal people don't know."
This was the first threat they've received, Stone said. The Air Force's Office of Special Investigations and other organizations are investigating, he said.
Stone is also still recovering from his extensive physical injuries sustained in the two attacks. His thumb, which was badly cut during the train attack, has built up a lot of scar tissue and lost mobility. Stone said he does exercises such as gripping stiff putty to try to regain the strength in his hand.
"It's not very useful right now," Stone said of his thumb.
He's also continuing to see a cardiologist and other doctors to follow up on the October stabbings, with X-rays, electrocardiograms and echocardiograms. Because of his series of injuries, Stone said he hasn't worked out since August, and "I'm feeling not so great that way."
And Stone said his family has made a lot of changes to be there for him and help with his recovery. His sister, for example, quit her job in Long Beach and moved back to Sacramento to assist.
"They've pretty much had to make their lives my life for at least four or five months," Stone said.
Stone's first few days back on the job have been quiet due to Christmas week. He said he's planning to celebrate Christmas with his family in Sacramento, and then spend New Year's Eve with friends in Florida. But he won't ring in the new year with Skarlatos, he said with a laugh.
"Alek's on tour, he's really busy," Stone said. "He's out there making money."
Stone said he will start Airman Leadership School on Jan. 8, to learn how to be a noncommissioned officer and lead others.
Stone said he's been touched by the support he's gotten.
"I was given the opportunity to do something good, and I took it," Stone said. "It all worked out for the best, and I'm just happy with that."
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.