Updated: Nov 15, 2022
From kindergarten through military service, three Boise men live out the Marine creed of ‘Semper Fidelus’ (Always Faithful).
The following story appeared in the November 4 Idaho Catholic Register.
St. Mark’s three Marines on a snowy day, one of their last times together before departing for assignments. (Courtesy photo)
By Gene Fadness
When the eighth-graders at St. Mark’s Catholic School re-enacted the Stations of the Cross about five years ago, Steven Rivas was King Herod; Jakob Negus was a Roman centurion and Thomas Jones played the role of Jesus.
Taken while they were eighth-graders at St. Mark’s Catholic School in Boise are, from left, Thomas Jones, Jakob Negus and Steve Rivas. (Courtesy photos/Negus, Rivas and Jones families)
It was one of the culminating events of nine years together starting back in kindergarten at St. Mark’s Catholic School. They didn’t see each other as often during their high school years with Rivas attending Bishop Kelly, while Jones and Negus attended Renaissance High School in Meridian.
Now the three are together again. But, unlike Herod, Jesus and a Roman centurion, they are more than play-acting and, this time, all are on the same team as United States Marines.
Recruit training are, from left, Jakob Negus, Steven Rivas and Thomas Jones. (Courtesy photos/Negus, Rivas and Jones families)
Their paths have crossed again in ways they could not have planned or imagined.
All decided to enlist independently of each other and reignited their friendship when they saw each other at the recruiter’s office. Also unplanned was the day they actually started their enlistment. The ship dates for Negus and Rivas were changed and the two ended up shipping out together. They were placed in the same platoon and then became rack mates. “I had the top bunk and he had the bottom,” Negus said of Rivas.
Jones graduated boot camp a few weeks earlier than Negus and Rivas who graduated together, but there was a period of time when all three were at the same base. They saw each other occasionally, especially at Mass. Then, Jones was shipped to another state for training in his specialty. “Steven and Jakob still met when they could and even learned to give each other haircuts,” says Steven’s father, Ken Rivas.
In the Marines, are from left, Steven Rivas, Jakob Negus and Thomas Jones. (Courtesy photos/Negus, Rivas and Jones families)
The Rivas-Negus reunion morphed into a Rivas-Jones reunion when Rivas left for training to the same base where Jones was. Then it became a Jones-Negus duo when Jones finished his training and eventually was stationed at the same base as Negus. And, for now, Rivas is stationed just an hour away from Jones and Negus.
However, it is more than the comradery of the Marines and the coincidence – or providence – of location that binds the three men together. It is also their shared faith, which has become deeper and more significant to them as they begin their service to their country.
Steven Rivas, left, and Jakob Negus. (Courtesy photo/Rivas and Negus families)
Negus vividly recalls the last Mass he attended with Rivas before they graduated boot camp.
“The last song of the Mass, the last verse,” Negus said of the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”: “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!”
Those words that convey the seriousness and sacrifice of their shared mission so impacted Rivas that he had them tattooed on the inside of his right forearm. “I look at that more times than I look at my face,” Rivas said.
While Hollywood often likes to portray the men and women in the armed forces as crude and given over to a party lifestyle when off-duty, all three have witnessed a different kind of service member during boot camp.
The ideal veterans who Jones have seen exemplified in his life are men
“who were prayerful, who had their faith and their family and friends who kept them going.”
He enjoys attending Mass on base where he has seen older veterans, now active as members of the Knights of Columbus, and the deacon serving, also a Marine. These were the men, in Jones’ view, who best exemplify the Marine Corps motto of “Semper Fi,” short for “Semper Fidelis,” which means, “Always faithful.”
“My time in boot camp strengthened and fortified my faith,” Jones said. He has met men from across the nation who come from different backgrounds, but share their faith. A favorite time for him is at day’s end, when he and Catholic friends meet together for short prayer and study of a Bible verse.
In fact, all three men say the intensity of boot camp was made easier because of their faith.
“I absolutely became a better Catholic while I was at boot camp,” Negus said. Attending Mass, at first, was a respite from the rigor of the training. (To get an idea of boot camp training, google “The Crucible, Marine Corps recruit training.”) However, as he continued Mass attendance, “I got closer to the Lord. I had a rosary I brought with me and prayed that pretty much every night.”
Negus gained an even greater appreciation for a family that made sure he attended Mass and enrolled him in Catholic school during his younger years. “I have my family to thank for setting up a phenomenal foundation for my faith, a foundation that helped me grow closer to God rather than push me away.”
Jones said his faith was a “rock to lean on,” during boot camp. “You definitely need that strong foundation,” he said, emphasizing the importance of spiritual fitness to fortify physical and mental fitness.
It was comforting to him, after a hard week, to go to a big theatre at the depot on base and see all his fellow Catholics. It was not home, but about as close as one could get.
Rivas said attending Mass with Negus and Jones “brought us closer together as brothers.” Even going by himself was better than he would have thought pre-military days. “Going by myself has given me a different appreciation for the Mass that I did not notice when attending with my family.”
While attending St. Mark’s and later Bishop Kelly, Rivas was also a greeter and an altar server. He was involved in campus ministry at BK. An athlete, he helped coach the St. Mark’s team in the annual Hallissey Basketball Tournament. He was active in all sports, concentrating on football and wrestling his junior and senior year.
The desire to serve in the military has been with him for as long as he can recall, ingrained by a family of veterans. His mother’s family served primarily in the Navy and his father in the Army. An uncle served in the Marines.
Jones was also an alter server, active in youth ministry, helped the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in its efforts to feed the homeless and traveled to Washington D.C. to the March for Life.
Like his counterparts, Negus was involved in youth ministry, volunteered for the food bank, helped set up for events like the evangelization retreat and served as an altar server and greeter.
Always active, none of the three seemed wired for the more sedentary lifestyle of a college classroom.
And they are not dissuaded to serve in a world beset by invasion in Ukraine, a bellicose North Korean dictator or growing threats from terrorists and the Chinese.
“That all makes me want to be part of the Marines even more,” Rivas said, “because
I know I have what it takes to defend our country. I know not everyone out there is ready or prepared to do like I know that I could.”
Negus feels the same. “I didn’t want to work a job where I would sit in a chair all day,” he said. Negus also has family to think about – his own family. Recently married, Negus and his wife are the parents of an 18-month-old daughter. “I wanted to get the benefits the military provides, including the GI Bill. I may not want to go to college, but I want to give Keeli that opportunity,” he said. Now an infantryman preparing for deployment, he treasures the opportunities he gets every few months to come and see his young family.
The men, barely two decades old, are learning life lessons that some never acquire over a lifetime, values that are part of their DNA thanks to faith and family.
Now, they pass along those lessons to others.
Jones, returning to the school where it all began, this time as a Marine, answered questions posed to him by a St. Mark’s student: “Why did you decide to become a Marine? Are we at war?”
Steven Rivas, left, and Thomas Jones. (Courtesy photo/Rivas and Jones families)
Jones’ mother, Juliet, who was in the classroom, recalls her Marine son’s answer.
“He said, ‘I became a Marine because I felt the call to serve God and my country. No, we aren’t at war. You don’t have to worry because the Marines are ready at a moment’s notice to protect you, so you can go to school, live your lives and be with your families.’ ”
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