SOMERSET, Wis. — Justin Rivard was still in high school when he made national news by inventing a door-jamming system that prevents intruders from entering school classrooms. Now the 2018 Somerset graduate is using that same initiative and self-motivation to distinguish himself as a soldier in the U.S. Army.
Rivard recently took first place in the soldier category in the 10th Army Air and Missile and Defense Command’s European Best Defender Competition (EBDC) in Germany.
The competition took place June 1-5 at Rhine Ordnance Barracks. It consisted of events spread out over five days to include a physical fitness challenge, written exam, essay, hands-on warrior tasks and battle drills, scenario-based marksmanship event, stress shoot, call for fire, land navigation (night/day), a foot march, call for fire mission, reacting to a Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear (CBRN) attack, evacuating a casualty in CBRN environment, conducting de-masking procedures and performing tactical combat casualty care before concluding with a board panel.
For winning the competition, Rivard, a team chief assigned to Bravo Battery, 5th Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Ansbach, Germany, was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for demonstrating professionalism, tactical proficiency, mental and physical toughness. He said it was a great way to distinguish himself not only as a soldier, but as a person.
“There’s a lot of times when I was competing in this where I asked myself, do I actually have what it takes to do this?” he said. “I have to. I have to have this mentality because if I don’t it’s over. It’s already over if I quit on one single thing.”
That’s the same attitude Rivard had when he invented the JustinKase, a device made of steel plates and connecting rods that is placed under a classroom door and latches to the door's jamb to prevent intruders from forcing their way in. He came up with the idea as a high school junior in response to a spate of school shootings, and by the time he graduated, his invention had been shipped to schools in 42 states and his story had been featured by media outlets across the country including CNN, Fox News, the Washington Times and the New York Post.
Following graduation Rivard enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he said word of his invention had already reached his superiors.
“The Army looks for leaders,” he said via email from Germany. “People who take initiative in times where no one wants to step up. Many of my leaders had heard about my device and have thought better of me because it shows that I am willing to tactically think and solve problems. When it comes to the battlefield, if you cannot think quickly and solve your shorthand problems you won’t make it far.”
Rivard put those qualities to good use at the Best Defender competition in June. Among the physical challenges were a 2-mile run, a 50-meter sprint carrying 40-pound kettle bells to simulate carrying ammunition from one spot to another, a stress shooting situation in full gas masks while wearing bulletproof vests and other protective gear, dragging a 95-pound sled 25 meters, crouch-running another 25 meters, and low crawling 15 meters.
And that was just the morning of the first day.
Rivard said one of the most stressful parts of the competition was giving care under fire.
“What that entailed was trying to care for a wounded soldier while receiving indirect fire from small arms,” he said. “After that we moved onto weapons assembly. This entailed having an M17 pistol, M4 rifle, and an M249 machine gun disassembled in a box where we had to pick out the parts and assemble each weapon in the fastest time possible.”
Rivard said he was motivated to enter the competition by the chance to separate himself from his peers.
“This competition has so much involved and was such a great opportunity that it was impossible for a person like me to pass up,” he said. “This was also my chance to get back into competition again.”
That competitive fire has been burning inside Rivard since he was a youngster growing up in Somerset. He was a member of the Spartan football as well as track and field teams and said the lessons he learned as a high school athlete continue to drive him to this day.
“My senior year of track I came a half-inch shy of going to state and experiencing competing at the highest level,” he said. “That taste has been in my mouth since that day I lost. Once I was given this opportunity to compete, that day played over and over in my head until my name was called as the winner. I believe without this experience of coming shy of my dream back then I would not have had the mental drive or the reasoning to push myself to come out on top in this competition.”
As champion of the 10th Army Air and Missile and Defense Command’s European Best Defender Competition, Rivard qualifies for the U.S. Army Europe’s Best Warrior Competition, where he will compete among the best of the best stationed in Europe. The winners of that event will advance to the Best Soldier Competition in Washington, D.C. July 26-31.
Rivard said he plans on attending Ranger School after the Best Soldier Competition and is considering joining the U.S. Army’s Special Forces as he decides whether or not to pursue a military career. Regardless, he said he owes a lot to the people back home who helped him become the person he is today.
“I love my country and I love my hometown and everyone that had an impact on my life,” he said. “For those people that made me the person I am, they are the reason I’m willing to make the sacrifice. To me that is the least I can do for the great members in our community that raise such great young adults. I cannot list everybody’s name but to everybody who knew me growing up, taught me new things, coached me in sports, and just gave me life advice, I thank you for what you’ve done to make me the person I am today. Without you I would not be in my situation that I am now, and I definitely wouldn’t have the mental strength to push myself to the limit every day.”