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Employee Spotlight

Choosing Helicopters over Law

A life-changing conversation with a U.S. Army recruiter led Jack Sturgeon to join the military. After 25 years of helicopter flying and rescue operations, Sturgeon came to BYU as an army recruiter, helping students who are much like he was find their way.

Jack Sturgeon, BYU ROTC recruiting operations officer.
Photo courtesy of Jack Sturgeon.

Sturgeon has worked as a recruiting operations officer for 13 years, joining the military science department at BYU’s Marriott School of Business in 2009 after retiring from the army. In this role, he works with prospective and current Army ROTC cadets to help them maneuver their way through school, giving them every opportunity to achieve greatness. “I coach and mentor the students,” says Sturgeon. “I keep them motivated and resolve all their concerns or reservations about continuing on their path to military service.”

Because he has been in their shoes, Sturgeon can relate to his students. Since he was inspired by an army recruiter to join the military, doing the same for others is incredibly meaningful for Sturgeon.

After receiving his undergraduate degree from BYU when he was 23 years old, Sturgeon planned to attend law school but delayed his legal education so he could save money. During this period, Sturgeon often played racquetball with his friend, an army recruiter. One day, they were talking about Sturgeon’s career plans, and when his friend said, “I can pay for law school,” Sturgeon immediately wanted to know more. The two visited the recruiter’s office, where Sturgeon noticed a poster of an army helicopter on the wall.

“Flying helicopters looks like a lot more fun than going to law school,” Sturgeon recalls thinking.

After completely turning around his career plans, Sturgeon became a pilot and spent the next 25 years piloting helicopters and airplanes for the army. Now, he inspires BYU’s Army ROTC cadets with own his real-life stories. For example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Sturgeon commanded a helicopter fleet that rescued 90,000 people. In Iraq, he organized an aviation task force to neutralize thousands of enemy bombs.

Sturgeon ascribes his impressive career to one overarching decision: to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a college freshman at Ball State University in his native state of Indiana, Sturgeon joined the church and dropped everything to serve his mission.

“My mission set me up for success and everything I’ve done in life,” he says. “The gospel helped me receive direction and know what I wanted to do.”

Sturgeon credits his leadership opportunities, a core component of his career, to this decision. “I know that I held certain leadership positions in the army because the Lord needed me there at that time,” he says, “not necessarily because I had any special ability. I witnessed amazing miracles because I held and was able to use the priesthood.”

Sturgeon helps his students prepare for similar lives of service and has high hopes for their futures. “Our students at BYU will become remarkable leaders,” he says. “The Lord will use them to help promote the gospel and protect His people.”

Fortunately for Sturgeon, working at BYU allows him to talk freely about spiritual ideas and experiences. His seasoned example teaches cadets volumes about leadership. “True leaders help everyone around them be successful,” he says. “True leaders are team players who put other people’s needs ahead of their own.”

BYU’s cadets are up to the task, says Sturgeon. Speaking highly of the cadets’ accomplishments, Sturgeon notes the fifth-place finish of the school’s team at the global Sandhurst Competition in West Point, New York, and mentions that the seventh female to ever graduate from Army Ranger School came from BYU. Witnessing his cadets succeed is extremely rewarding for Sturgeon.

“The best part of my job is when my students reach out and tell me about their success and achievements,” he says. “I love to see their careers blossom and listen to their stories.”

Although he is retired from the army, Sturgeon is still creating a military legacy. He continues to live a life of impressive service and leadership, inspiring and shaping the rising generation of cadets to follow in his footsteps.


Writer: Jaden McQuivey