For Niko Gavino, leadership and service to country is a family ritual. Gavino, a junior criminology and criminal justice major, comes from a line of soldiers, and he recently proved his dedication to that legacy by winning the 1st. Lt. Kevin J. Gaspers Memorial Award.
The Army ROTC program offers the award to UNL ROTC cadets in honor of 1st. Lt. Kevin Gaspers, a fallen soldier, Hastings native and UNL Army ROTC alumnus.
Gaspers served as an armor officer in the 82nd Airborne Division. While stationed in As Sadah, Iraq, in 2007, Gaspers was killed by a suicide bomber.
Gavino said Gaspers’ death sparked many new traditions in UNL’s Army ROTC program, like the memorial awards and displays inside the Military and Naval Science building.
According to Maj. Daniel Fritz, assistant professor of military science, Gavino's integrity and commitment to duty led him to receive the award.
“In my four years of teaching ROTC, I haven't met a cadet that is more deserving of an award like this,” he said.
Fritz said awards remind current soldiers, future soldiers and civilians of the sacrifice that men and women make to serve the country.
“We award those who exhibit the values that approach those shown by the fallen; we cannot willingly reach their level of sacrifice,” he said. “Reminders of their sacrifice are ways of motivating us to continue improving ourselves so that we might better serve our country and our sisters and brothers in arms.”
Gavino said he is honored by the award and feels motivated and humbled. Gaspers’ parents delivered the award to Gavino, and he told them that the award was the ultimate honor for him.
Gaspers represents the kind of officer and person Gavino said he strives to be. After reading Gaspers’ biography, he said the similarities he found makes him admire Gaspers even more.
“We both are strong in our faiths, and we both strive to live humble lives,” he said.
Gavino enlisted to carry on his family’s military legacy. His grandfather was a colonel in the Philippine Army during World War II, and his father served as an American paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne who fought in Operation Just Cause in Panama and Desert Storm in Iraq.
Besides his classes and work, Gavino said he spends most of his time at ROTC activities and that he will apply to be a male cheerleader this coming academic year.
Fritz said Gavino has always been a leader among whatever company he keeps, and his integrity and confidence make him a role model for the other cadets.
“He's the kind of cadet you never want to graduate so that he can stay in ROTC and continue to help develop future leaders,” he said. “But we're proud of him and the fact that he'll represent the Big Red Battalion as a second lieutenant.”