Alex Shaw, '99
in June 2007
Hard Work Pays off for Captain Alex Shaw
Alex Shaw came to the University of South Carolina thinking he might want a career as an Athletics Director or perhaps working in the National Football League. While he still enjoys athletics, Shaw embarked on a career path in the military that has taken him well beyond stadiums and press boxes into national politics and, most recently, the war in Iraq.
Shaw enlisted in the United States Army National Guard in 1992 as he prepared to go to college. He would later go to Officers Candidate School near Fort Jackson, where he earned a commission as a lieutenant in 1998.
"I needed a way to pay for college, and my mom thought the military would be good for me," Shaw says. "I came to Carolina because initially I thought I would get a degree in Sports Management."
The Yemassee, SC, native juggled class work with a job in the Carolina Athletics Department. He worked with the Sports Information Department and later the Business Office. That experience led him to seek a business degree, and he graduated with a degree in Retail in 1999.
Shaw worked hard to make connections and earned a position as an aide to former U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings.
"I was the Deputy Director for Projects," Shaw says. "I would evaluate requests for proposals and grant applications for projects in South Carolina that needed federal assistance and pass along my recommendations to the senator."
Most people aren’t fortunate enough to earn that type of position right out of college, but Carolina Athletics Department employee Sue Curran McLeese took note of all the extra hours Shaw devoted to his work as well as his studies and helped him make a connection.
"Sue introduced me to her husband, Ike McLeese, who is the president of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce," Shaw recalls. "Working behind the scenes of sporting events is exciting, but I’d rather be a fan. So politics interested me, and Ike put me in touch with different people. I met with the senator’s chief of staff and later received an e-mail saying I had a job. I was very surprised and excited."
Serving His Country
Captain Shaw was called for military service in Iraq and landed there in December 2005. He would spend the next 12 months serving as the officer in charge of manning, equipping and training nearly 10,000 members of the Iraqi Police Service in Baghdad. His unit, the 372nd Military Police Battalion, was responsible for Iraqi police development in an area measuring 16,000 square miles. By the end of the mission, the battalion headquarters had planned, coordinated and executed 8,300 combat missions with soldiers, including Shaw, working more than 14 hours per day.
"It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my 15 years of military service," Shaw says. "We’re rebuilding a nation while being confronted with the political and strategic impacts of our work daily. One bad decision could potentially spark an international incident."
In addition to overseeing and advising his battalion commander on Iraqi police training efforts in Baghdad, Shaw had a dual responsibility as a team chief for a 16-man police transition team comprised of military and civilian police officers. This part of the job kept him in the middle of combat operations, under constant attack by the enemy.
"Did I ever get scared? Absolutely. In traveling like we did, I wasn’t as worried about the bullets. I was more worried about the roadside bombs."
In March 2006, while traveling to a police station, Captain Shaw’s vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb. Fortunately, Shaw and his men escaped injury.
"They had put the explosive device in a palm tree," Shaw says. "So we did not take a direct hit. Not everybody is fortunate to survive an attack like that."
Even with all of the danger, Captain Shaw still believes in his mission.
"The Iraqi police are absolutely some of the bravest people I’ve met," Shaw said. "They too make the ultimate sacrifice of life in order to see democracy come about. They die in large numbers every day trying to bring peace and stability to Iraq. You don’t often hear of the human sacrifice the Iraqis make on the news for the cause of freedom in their country. They’re committed to the mission, and we’re making progress every day. I’ve attended town council meetings there, and most of the Iraqi people want what we all want; freedom and safe neighborhoods. They’re just scared, and we just try to make them feel safe."
For his service in Iraq, Captain Shaw was awarded the prestigious Bronze Star, the Iraq Campaign Medal, Overseas Service Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal.
He thanks the people of Hampton County back home for supporting him during this difficult time.
"I received many letters, prayers, and e-mails from a wide range of family and friends from Hampton County and beyond," Shaw says. "The people of this country, particularly my hometown of Yemassee are first class individuals, and I thank them for everything they did in support of my deployment to Iraq."
Captain Shaw is expected to be promoted to the rank of Major and earn his Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati by this summer. He currently works at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, VA, in the Force Management Division as the Military Police Force Management Officer, the subject matter expert for all military police forces assigned to 54 states and territories in the Army National Guard.
Through all of his experiences, Shaw still reflects fondly on his days at Carolina and was delighted to see how the campus has changed.
"I was back in Columbia last Christmas Eve," Shaw says. "There are so many beautiful changes around campus. I didn’t have a lot of time on that trip, but I was impressed with the Strom Thurmond Fitness Center and the new fraternity village. The place is just magnificent. I still talk with a few of the folks in Athletics who were around back when I was a student."
"I have a lot of good memories from being a student. The most precious of them all was the words of wisdom from legendary athletics department groundskeeper, the late Sarge Frye. He would stop by my desk in the athletics department and share one of those World War II stories just like Senator Hollings. We never talked sports. It was always ‘keep your head on straight’ and take care of soldiers. Sarge was a combat veteran who earned the Bronze Star. How ironic is that? I too now am a combat veteran with a Bronze Star for combat service. Sarge was a good man. Those are the memories you keep for life."