By Jeanne McKinney
On Feb. 20, 1970, a presidential commission moved the United States to all-volunteer armed forces. Recruitment efforts presented the military as a career path, an income, and a way to higher education. In the weeks and months following the terrorist attacks that unfolded on Sept. 11, 2001, Army Sergeant Cheri Depenbrock was amazed as people walked in her recruitment office with one purpose. “It was all about the patriotism,” she recalls, “They didn’t care about anything else. Money had nothing do with it…I think half those kids would have joined if we hadn’t paid them.”
In 2010, it wasn’t the money or benefits that led Specialist (Spc) Jeremy Shivick, a native of El Cajon, to a recruiter. He was attending San Diego State University as a math major and felt a sudden urge to join the Army. Despite a lack of family support, he remembers, “I felt like I could serve my country more by being a soldier than I could going to school.”
Infantry is what Shivick went after from the get-go, saying that was the job that fit him best. “The first thing everyone goes through is basic training,” he says, “That’s where you transition from being a civilian to being a solider.” Basic teaches physical and mental preparedness in a highly intense and challenging task environment, including combat life-saving certification. Compared to school finals, the Army gave Jeremy new meaning to performing and functioning under stress.
Shivick had to zero an M-4 series weapon, a soldier’s small arms companion. (The term “zero” means the point at which the path of the bullet intersects with the shooter’s line of sight). This requires mastering aim, positioning, breathing, trigger squeeze — even outfoxing the weather.
Shivick went to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) to become a specialist in his Infantry job. “There I learned a lot of tactics and how to deal with combat situations and how to interact with multicultural civilian populaces in different regions.” Upon leaving AIT, Shivick says they get a little more hands-on training with the squad automatic weapon (SAW), an M240 machine gun, a .50 caliber rifle, and the Mark (MK-19) grenade launcher —although some of these weapons are specialized to companies that deal with heavier equipment.
Not everyone can get in Airborne School, but Shivick had it written in his enlistment contract. He replays the first time he jumped out of an aircraft, “I was nervous for a little while. You have to rig up [a parachute and rucksack] and do pre-jump exercises to get in a state of mind to exit the aircraft. Lots of friends I knew from Infantry were there – we were moral support for one another. Once I jumped, my military chute opened and everything went great. I got to see this incredible view – the tops of trees I’ve never seen before.”
While assigned to the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Shivick jumps all the time. “Part of our task list is to practice becoming a presence on air fields and going from there to conduct ground operations.” In combat, the view through tree tops could be rocket fire, bullets and shrapnel. Still Shivick thrives on the thrill of being attached to the 82nd. “I really enjoy my unit. They’ve taught me a lot and instilled so much discipline.” He’s aware that staying is not up to him, “If orders take me somewhere else, I have to go — that’s the lifestyle.” It’s a lifestyle wrapped in duty.
“Duty is doing the right thing when no one is looking,” states Shivick, “It’s your duty as a soldier to be cognizant of what you’re doing, and be self-aware of your surroundings and actions.” Soldiers take an oath to follow the Warrior Ethos,”I will never leave a fellow soldier.”
During a training event, Spc. Shivick put the Warrior Ethos in action. “One of my soldiers was pulling security. You could hear gunfire. Typically, when you see someone fire at you, you want to shoot back. Even though it was a simulation, he froze.” Shivick moved to his soldier’s vantage point and laid things out very simply. “He’s left of this building — go ahead — you’re authorized [to shoot]. Putting simple instructions in small steps broke him out of the freeze.
“If one were to panic [in battle] you need to get to them as soon as possible, because every soldier you have is an asset for the team, so you want them to regain focus quickly.”
Focus, hard work, and endurance earned Shivick the right to compete in the Department of the Army 2012 Best Warrior Competition. Over a series of three days, he was included in a group of 24 of the Army’s most elite warriors that are put through a series of oral interviews, physical fitness tests, and written exams. They must also complete a day and night land navigation course and work through battlefield scenarios, including individual conduct and laws of war, combat first aid, unexploded ordnance, and M-4 range zero.
“The hardest thing I’ve done is the culmination of various competitions trying to become the Department of the Army Soldier of the Year,” states Shivick. The winner is privy to prestigious honors and cash prizes for their achievements. He had to compete against other remarkable soldiers with a variety of military occupational specialties. Shivick came in as a rifleman, but got the hoped-for chance to take charge on those fight-to-the finish days, “I learned all these skills people were expecting me to know and become extremely proficient at. I was able to have my team rely on my instruction to accomplish the mission.” Although he didn’t win, he gives credit to his command and unit for their help and support to get him that far.
“I’ve been proving myself in these competitions and demonstrated potential to be an excellent leader. The biggest thing I can offer is my knowledge of warrior task and drills. That experience I can transfer through leadership. You’re building confidence in yourself and can instill confidence in the soldiers [you lead] making a more cohesive unit.” Shivick’s long-term goals are to be a Non-Commissioned Officer and gain experience from a combat deployment.
Today, Shivick’s family sees his decision to join the Army through different eyes. When the call came, Spc. Jeremy Shivick answered without looking back. His nation was at war and that was more important than anything. When patriotism pulses through the veins – a country founded on freedom can smile at its citizens who stop what they are doing to defend it.
The military is not for everyone, but thank goodness it’s a perfect fit for some. For Shivick, “The Army is an incredible way to live. It teaches you much about yourself and how to be a good member of society.”