Most people strive to make a name for themselves and show they are an individual – not just like anyone you would see walking down the street. This can sometimes be a challenging concept to overcome, especially when you come from a military family.
For Wisconsin Army National Guard’s Sgt. Steven Jopek, having an older brother and father who served in the National Guard has been a motivation, as well as an obstacle for him in his military career.
“In an obstacle way, I am Ryan Jopek’s little brother, I’ll never be Sgt. Steven Jopek,” he said.
Jopek’s older brother, Ryan, was killed in action in Iraq while serving with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team in 2006.
On the other hand, Jopek’s military background serves as a motivator to compete in this year’s Best Warrior Competition and advance to the state level held at Fort McCoy, Wis., April 10-13.
“The biggest motivation is just to prove that I can do it,” said Jopek. “I’m also out to make my dad proud and my mom proud and my family because we have been a military family for a while.”
Jopek currently serves as the squadron chaplain’s assistant with the Wisconsin Army Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 105th Cavalry. He is one of only 15 chaplain’s assistants in the state.
“I’m here, not only to represent my unit but also challenge myself, show that I can do the things that others can do,” said Jopek. “It’s a good chance for me to give us some representation out here.”
Jopek was first introduced to the military when he was about four years old. His father had him march cadence and conduct physical fitness training.
“It was always interesting, you would come home and there was always Army stuff everywhere,” explained Jopek. “You just learned to like it. I had lots of Army T-shirts.”
Jopek’s father, Brian, served in the National Guard for 21 years and retired in 2011.
Jopek also noted how growing up wasn’t like a traditional active duty family. Having his dad in the National Guard wasn’t any different until he deployed to Iraq in 2004, he said.
“It wasn’t anything significantly different until I was 12 when he deployed,” said Jopek. “It was obviously different because he was gone for a long time.”
Not long after his father deployed to Iraq with the Wisconsin National Guard, Ryan soon followed. Jopek was around 14 years old during his brother’s deployment.
“Ever since my brother went to Iraq, that is when I decided I wanted to be a chaplain’s assistant,” said Jopek. “That is what I wanted to do at that age; it just got fortified when Ryan passed away.
“When he came back from Iraq on leave, he had seen a lot,” Jopek continued. “I want to be able to minister to the people that will be going over there, and hopefully one day I will be able to go with them.”
Three years after joining the Wisconsin National Guard, he uses his military lineage as inspiration to establish that he is the “new” Sgt. Jopek currently serving in the Guard. The Best Warrior Competition is just one example of the effort he is making to show his value as a Soldier.
“It’s motivating because I know [Ryan] would love to be here,” said Jopek. “I know my Dad would love to do it.”