Most people can recall where they were on 9/11. Jack Steel can — sort of.
“It was before I was alive and I experienced 9/11,” the Shawnee High School senior recalled. “I was becoming a life form and entering the world as my parents were watching the (World Trade Center) towers go down on the TV screen.”
The Medford Lakes resident was born on April 29, 2002, and has since made it a mission to enlist in the Armed Forces, following in the footsteps of his mom, Bonnie. She served as a nurse lieutenant at Joint Base Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, Maryland, until just before Steel’s birth.
“I felt connected to helping people and being able to give back to the opportunity of life that brought me into this world,” Steel explained. “My mom was talking about her experience in the Air Force and how much that meant for her life. It changed her perspective and makes you a better person when you go back to civilian life, if you ever do so.”
His application to the United States Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut was submitted and approved following extensive preparation, including recommendation letters and a fitness test.
Steel was helped and inspired by his past and current coaches, teachers, parents and neighbors who helped him become an enlistee.
Steel’s experience in athletics allowed him to ace the Guard fitness test with a score of 250 out of 300. He has played defensive- and center-back in soccer and focused on baseball, where he was a middle infielder, shortstop and second -baseman.
“I’ve been swinging bats since I’ve been able to pick one up,” he admitted. “My parents were big soccer athletes and so I was into soccer with my friends on a pretty competitive team at the time. Baseball was always No. 1 for me and I stopped playing soccer when I was 12 to focus on baseball.”
As if two sports weren’t enough for him, Steel played volleyball competitively in seventh and eighth grade, and has had experience catching waves on his surfboard.
Competition has been a boon for the 18-year-old, but in the Coast Guard, he will leave that aside, instead indulging in the camaraderie of his fellow guardsmen.
“I did visit West Point [Naval Academy] and while I liked it, it didn’t seem like the same sort of feel as at the Coast Guard [Academy],” Steel shared. “The people at the academy were unmatched. They are humble and everyone has said it was the best decision of their lives to go there.”
A desire for the academy was always in Steel’s mind, but was cemented after he watched news reports of soaring unemployment during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. He sought security for his future and has decided to study management and remain in the academy for at least 20 years.
Learning of his dad’s, Andrew, history with real estate, maintaining a list of properties and working in Manhattan’s Financial District, the senior forged a path of his own in field with his intended major.
“There are a lot of choices there and I feel like I’m less of an engineer than most of the people going there would be,” Steel said. “I plan on being a Coast Guard Academy lifer. I will stay past the mandatory five years and get at least an extra 15 years in.”
Enlistees in the academy have a required five-year, post-graduate stretch in the Coast Guard where they earn educational and specialized training. Some exit the branch to take civilian jobs and others stay.
In the end, Steel has one mission in mind for the Coast Guard Academy and his life afterwards.
“Protect families from the possible harms that come in the U.S. such as drugs, weapons and from terroristic acts,” he proclaimed. “I want to do the best I can to protect everyone in the states, less about me.”