Upper Right Photo: Kevin Sirucek (middle) receiving the Italian National Medal during his 2007 - 2008 deployment.
Lower Left Photo: Steve Schmidt (center front) in front of his company on right after he took command in Febuary 2012.
A Tale of Two Vandals
Alums Steve Schmidt and Kevin Sirucek serve in the same battalion years after graduation
By Lisa Laughlin
Alums Steve Schmidt and Kevin Sirucek both attended University of Idaho, but graduated at different times (Schmidt ’99 and ‘01, Sirucek ’06) and pursued different paths in the Army. However, both found themselves as company commanders in the same Aviation Battalion, currently stationed in Afghanistan. Although both have made different, but huge, contributions, they each credit much of their success to their educational foundation from the University of Idaho.
Sirucek, originally from Shelby, Montana, graduated with a General Studies major and minors in German and History. He participated in the NROTC program, but did not graduate as a member. After graduation, he joined the Army.
“The last time I drove away from Moscow and tried to burn a permanent image of those winter wheat and lentil pea fields in my mind, was the first time I thought about a small two lane highway that literally lead to the entire World,” said Sirucek. His first stop elsewhere in the world was his first assignment in Germany, and he was already impacted by his studies.
“My degree in history has been the key to my success in personal and professional growth . . . the study of history has made me a better person, and has also equipped Captain Kevin Sirucek with the tools to understand how important the proverb is that our History profressors would beat into our head in class: ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend,’” he said.
Sirucek is currently stationed in Mazar-E-Sharif, Afghanistan, where he oversees 64 soldiers as the Forward Support Logistics Company Commander. In his previous deployment at Kabul (2011), he served as the Chief of Foreign Military Sales Transportation Officer.
“It was my job to provide movement control of planes, trains, and ships moving at all hours, in every time zone around the World, bringing supplies to support the arming and training of an Army,” he said. “Doing my job is what I enjoy the most, and that hard work ethic that I learned from people like Rick McMurray in those pea fields [in Moscow] has had a permanent impact in my life.”
And his strong work ethic has paid off, as Sirucek was awarded the Italian National Medal for his combat heroism in Afghanistan, one of only two Americans since World War II ever to do so. Again, he credits his U-Idaho education as the foundation for the honor.
“Dr. Spence, Dr. Quinlan, and Gerd Steckel armed me with a solid historical background of the cold war, cultural history, and taught me theory of language acquisition using the German language. They also introduced me to authors like George Kennan, Hobbes, Bacon, and Goethe. I am able to reach back into that educational background and use those skills to interact with people of different countries to get people together and get big things done,” said Sirucek. “I believe that the reception of the Italian National Medal in Italy for actions in Afghanistan is a direct result [of that education.]”
A major role of that education has been to equip Sirucek with the skills for solving conflict.
“From a Cultural History perspective, I understand that at the end of the day, all cultures have some basic things in common that we can all use to find some common ground,” he said. “Pride in a cause, or the desire for respect, or as simple as a hope to improve themselves or their family’s welfare motivates most people—and if I can identify with an individual or a group of people on some basic level, I have a chance at discussing any problem with the intent of resolution.”
And the first step to resolving issues is to connect with people on a personal level.
“My educational background assists me to understand the importance of developing a personal conversation with many soldiers, politicians, and family members from different countries . . . [which] usually lead to mutual respect, trust, and comradeship and gives me a perspective on their culture and their country from what I know, and not what I see on the news or hear on the radio.”
One community that Sirucek will never forget is the one he connected with at Idaho.
“A degree from the University of Idaho didn’t only give me an education; I feel like I gained a community and a family that I still speak with to this day,” he said.
Major Steve Schmidt, Sirucek’s fellow company commander, is another member of that Idaho community. Originally from Lewiston, Idaho, Schmidt earned both a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) in 1999 and a M.S. in FCS from the University of Idaho, and was also on scholarship with Idaho’s AROTC program during graduate school. His first duty assignment was as a Medical Platoon Leader in Schweinfurt, Germany, and he has since travelled many places and currently serves as a MEDEVAC helicopter pilot.
“My journey from a UI graduate to where I am now has been incredible. When I graduated in 2001, you could have never convinced me I would be where I am today,” said Schmidt. “We all knew that when aircraft flew into the World Trade Center our lives would never be the same, but in the last 11 years my wife Christina and I have been stationed in Germany, Alabama, Colorado, Texas and Germany again; I have been deployed to Kosovo, West Africa, Iraq (three times) and Afghanistan; and we had a son in Germany and a daughter in Colorado.”
Throughout all of his travels, Schmidt and his wife have held on strongly to their Idaho roots.
“We have met and worked both for and with some of the most amazing people, and maintained our link back to the University of Idaho and our families in Lewiston, Clarkston and Orofino as best we can,” he said. “I believe the challenges have lied along the path in all of that, but they have only served to help us get where we are today.”
And today, Schmidt is stationed in a war zone.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with approximately 104 of the best Soldiers in the Army who are completely dedicated to ensuring that soldiers who get hurt have the best crews and helicopters available to come and get them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” he said. “My First Sergeant and I are charged with the care and well being for all of our Soldiers and their families, and we also have the inherent responsibility of ensuring that our 15 helicopters and the rest of our equipment are taken care of.”
Despite the challenges that this position presents, it’s clear that Schmidt is passionate about what he does.
“My favorite part of being a MEDEVAC pilot is the impact we have on Soldiers in the fight. Those Soldiers go out on patrol day in and day out knowing that we will be here to come and get them when things go bad,” said Schmidt. “The difficulty lies in the fact that when we come, it is generally an extremely bad day for that individual or group of individuals.”
Schmidt also considers his time at Idaho as the basis for the position he’s in now.
“Being a Vandal is one thing that I will always be proud of. Some of the best experiences of my life happened and some lifelong friends were made during my time at the University,” he said. “There were several professors who were influential to me. First and foremost would be Janice Fletcher; she was my advisor, my mentor and a wonderful friend who showed me the true impact we can have on our children and families when we stop, watch, and listen.”
And Schmidt cares for and treats his comrades as if they were his family, recommending others to do the same as he reflects on lessons learned:
“Listen twice as much as you talk, learn from your cadre as they are some of the best the Army has to offer, stay in touch with one another throughout your careers because you will learn a lot from your individual and collective experiences, mentor those that come after you, and take care of your Soldiers as if they were your own family . . . because they are,” he said.
Schmidt says his hopes for his future career are simple.
“My hope [is to] continue to serve my country to the best of my ability while striving to find ways to better support the Soldier on the ground. There are several things I would like to do after I leave the Army, but the first and foremost is going to be to spend time with the family who has sacrificed so much for my career.”
His comrade Sirucek plans to continue in roughly the same vein of work after leaving the Army.
“I’d like to continue to serve the Wounded Warriors or work for a company that needs to move, say, 30,000 pairs of shoes to a third world country. For sure I will be taking time out to skydive a lot more,” said Sirucek.
Wherever these two Vandal alums end up, they will continue to help others and recall their time at the University of Idaho as a pivotal experience for success.