Sergeant 1st Class Rick J. Herrema’s life was cut short during an April 2006 Operation Iraqi Freedom deployment, but his legacy has endured in the way he is remembered. Rick had a deep love for his fellow man, his family and his country. When Rick claimed you as a friend, he was your friend for life; and for the 27 years Rick lived he never stopped serving others.
“I can see myself living 80 years and not impacting as many people,” said a childhood friend. “He didn’t care what happened to him. He wanted to make you look good. He had an amazing way of making you feel like you were number one.”
When the leaders required a namesake for their vision of an outdoor recreation center where soldiers could reconnect with their families between deployments, the Rick Herrema Foundation (RHF) was the only choice.
“Rick was the type of guy that would have been out at Rick’s place every single weekend making sure things got done,” Katie, his sister, said. “If he ever saw a need, he’d fill it.”
Born March 28, 1979 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rick entered the Army as an infantryman in 1999. His first assignment sent him to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He completed the Special Forces Qualification Course at Fort Bragg, N.C. in 2003. Rick graduated as an 18D Special Forces Medical Sergeant and was later selected for another special operations unit.
When you speak with those who knew him the best Rick’s selfless service to his family, friends and the community dominate the conversations. “I can’t think of anyone who didn’t want to be his friend,” said a fellow Special Forces soldier who went through the qualification course with Rick. “He put others in front of him more than most people I know. It didn’t take long to notice and once you did you wanted to be around him.” No matter how hard training or how difficult the deployment, he always tried to make a tough situation better, making it a point to focus on the positive – habitually telling uplifting, funny stories to make friends laugh and make an often tough situation better.
The most important things in Rick’s life were his faith and his family and it showed. He fawned over his sisters, paying for a limo to take them to prom, and purchased a trip to Las Vegas for his parents. Every Sunday, regardless of what he was doing or where he was Rick took the time to call and check in with friends and family. He was the rock that his circle went to when they just weren’t sure what to do. “What would Rick do?” was as a common refrain, and many of them would give much to have him call them just one more time.
“People went out of their way to help him because they knew he'd do it for him,” Katie said. “He earned a lot of respect because he gave a lot of respect.”
Rick had plans to leave the Army when it was time to start a family. He understood the pressure of deployments and knew military children worry about their father dying. Rick’s mother, Mary, said he didn’t want to put that kind of pressure on his own children.
It is fitting that Rick’s Place will endeavor to alleviate the stress of military life and give families a place to reset and recharge. While Rick would have been the first guy to help build the foundation, he would have likely closed his eyes and rubbed his head when he heard it was named after him, but for those who still think of Rick every day, there is no more fitting tribute.
Rick didn’t chase after earthly treasures. His memory is one of a man who lived for a higher set of ideals. Talk to any of Rick’s friends, and each one can add to a long list of small acts of selflessness. “I believe that God knows when you’re going to die,” Mary said. “He died doing what he wanted to do. I know he wouldn’t want something named after him. He should be honored. Life can be better for all those families.”
RHF and “Rick’s Place” recreation center will continue to embody Rick’s life of service which was not for personal gratification but because in Rick’s mind there was no other way to live. Those who knew Rick are thankful to have spent time with him and now each visitor to Rick’s Place will experience a taste of his life well lived. Going to Rick’s Place will give folks a chance to experience what it was like to have Rick in their life.