John Shields was planning to ship off to Marine boot camp this summer. That plan changed in April when he was awarded a four-year full-ride Naval Reserve Officer Training (Marine option) scholarship to attend Iowa State University beginning this fall. Instead of continuing the enlistment he agreed to and has been preparing for since last summer, Shields will serve in the ROTC while attending college and then be commissioned as second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps
Shields will not be the first in his family to serve: he won’t even be the first John Shields in the family to do so — his great-grandfather, who he shares a name with, served in the Army. His grandfather on his mother’s side, Randy Chambers, was in the Air Force. Despite this, Shields was not raised with the expectation of joining the military.
However, it has been his dream since he was 8 years old playing with toy soldiers instead of the tractors and trucks that might be expected of a child growing up in the small-town farming community of Mount Ayr.
Shields said he did not expect to win the scholarship because it is a competitive process.
“I didn’t really think I had a chance of getting it,” said Shields. “But I applied and ... in April I got a letter saying I got the scholarship.”
Success and winning are things Shields is familiar with. He was selected to the All-State Academic teams for football, basketball and track. He is a member of the National Honor Society. He has been invited to the Des Moines Register sports awards as a Class 1A All-Iowa Team defensive linebacker June 21.
The Shields family does not rely on luck to produces wins. Mom, Shelly Shields, said she and dad, Mike Shields, instilled a work ethic in Shields and older sister Tessa — teaching them that hard work pays off.
“We taught them you have to work for what you want. You can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen,” Shelly said. “I don’t think we were magical parents. I think we just instilled this is what you have to do in life.”
Shields’ hard work is evident in the preparation he has put into becoming a Marine and now a Marine officer. Five days a week, he gets out of bed at 5 a.m. to run 3 to 6 miles.
He has attended Delayed Enlistment Program meetings with military recruiters in Des Moines each month beginning last summer. He passed the physical fitness test for his scholarship application — although not to his personal satisfaction as he had played football the night before.
Although he was required to read at least two books from the Marine Corps Commandant’s reading list, Shields is currently on his fifth. He cites “My Men are my Heroes” by Nathaniel R. Helms and “Battle Cry” by Leon Uris as books he enjoyed. Shields said he likes reading, especially military history.
The hard work is certainly not over for Shields.
In July he will attend three weeks of new student indoctrination, a mini-bootcamp, at Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois.
When Shields attends college in the fall, he will have ROTC duties, physical training sessions, practice drills and naval science classes in addition to his regular course load as a criminal justice major.
The summer after his junior year of college will bring Officer Candidate School where he must earn his commission as an officer. Once he graduates from Iowa State, he will receive his commission and begin at least four years as an active duty Marine.
Shields credits his successful application for this scholarship in part to a mentor who he has never actually met — Marine Corps Major Chris Whitson. Derek Lambert, Shields’ football coach, introduced him to Whitson — nephew of astronaut Peggy Whitson — who helped guide Shields through the application process, gave him advice on training and inspired him to keep working.
Shelly said she is proud of her son and would have been proud of him even without the scholarship and potential to become an officer.
“This is his dream, this is what he wanted, this is who he is,” she said.
Up until now, the family has been Hawkeye fans, but a full-ride scholarship to Iowa State trumps that. They’ll be trading in their black and gold for cardinal and gold.