SHOREWOOD – At about age 11, Cooper Shimkus knew what he wanted to do with his life.
“I wanted to do it [join the service],” he said. “I kept pursuing it.”
Cooper graduated in December – six months early – from Minooka Community High School. Because he was just 17 at the time, his parents had to sign papers allowing him to join the Marines.
The 18-year-old Shorewood resident was back home for 10 days during the Fourth of July holiday after graduating from boot camp. He also had two additional weeks off to work in the U.S. Marine office in Morris, helping recruit others.
“It’s not mandatory, but our office wanted people to go,” he said. “I help recruit or go on a coffee run or anything that needs to be done.”
Cooper was a wrestler at Minooka Junior High and his first two years at MCHS. In junior high, he was a three-time state qualifier.
Marty Shimkus, his father, believes Cooper’s wrestling training is partly responsible for how well his son did during the personal fitness test in basic training. Of 300 recruits, Cooper finished in the top few (no official results are given).
The test required a three-mile run, six pull-ups and 80 sit-ups. Cooper completed the run, did 31 pull-ups and 122 sit-ups.
He also scored as a sharp shooter during rifle training, which is the second highest level.
“I wanted to beat someone,” he said. “I enjoy challenges.”
Basic training was tough. There was a lot of yelling. He learned how to move a lot faster and spent a lot of time marching, he said.
It’s the challenge that gets Cooper through tough situations. His small stature got him harassed during training, often being called fun-size or asked if his mother knew where he was.
But that just made him all the more determined to get through it.
“You learn to deal with it or you don’t make it through,” he said.
Of the 300 recruits, 266 completed basic training.
“He’s better at challenges when someone is pushing him,” Marty said.
Cooper’s 21-year-old brother, Zachary, agreed.
“He has a drive that he can turn on and off so when he wants something he can do it,” Zachary said. “He gets that in the Marines. It suits him.”
While he was home, the family, including Cooper’s younger brother, 17-year-old Trevor, was able to spend time together at a reunion in Iowa and then a trip to San Diego.
Being home during the Fourth of July holiday was a little strange, Cooper said. People were thanking him for his service, which he doesn’t yet feel entitled to.
“I haven’t done anything yet, I just went through boot camp,” he said.
At 6 a.m. July 8 Cooper had to catch a plane to Camp Pendleton for combat training. He hopes to get into Reconnaissance, which is similar to Navy Seals and Army Special Forces. It’s top secret and specialized.
He knew the next step of his journey was also going to be tough, but he was eager to meet up with a couple friends from boot camp.
Saying goodbye again would be hard, said Cooper’s mom, Liana. She’s nervous he might be sent overseas but very proud that he knows what he wants at a young age.
“It’s honorable,” she said.