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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Hockey Player Eric Gregoire

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“Almost” doesn’t count, and it certainly isn’t good enough.

Former Notre Dame Hockey Player Eric Gregoire’s jersey (29).

I hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day holiday weekend. For me it’s one of those weekends that makes me reminisce about those in our family who served and gave the ultimate sacrifice, along with thanking those who served and are still with us. Instead of boring you with another Notre Dame/Navy post, I thought I’d share a bit of Notre Dame Fighting Irish hockey player Eric Gregoire’s story, and how he came to be an Army Ranger. I hope you enjoy it!

Most of us are told, when our parents drop us off at college, “Enjoy every moment they will fly by much too fast.” And even though very few of us actually thought that would be the case, it did indeed fly by in the blink of an eye. It seemed like we had just been dropped off for freshmen orientation weekend, and then there we were in our black robes, ready to turn our tassels and head out into the world to face our next adventure. As Eric finished up his time at Notre Dame, he looked beyond the Golden Dome to see where the Notre Dame Value Stream would take him next.

“All along I knew I was going to at least try to play hockey at a professional level. I was going to take a chance and see where it took me, and at the very least walk away with the experience of playing at the next level. Minor league teams started calling me right around graduation time. I never had any internships or gave much thought to how I was going to use my degree for post-college employment. I’m not even sure why I had that much confidence in my ability to play hockey after college, but I definitely did.”

“After graduation, several teams from the ECHL were showing interest in me, and I ended up signing with the Erie Panthers (who were shared by the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings) as a free agent. Playing in the ECHL wasn’t as fun as playing in college, or as fun as youth hockey growing up. The game of hockey at the professional level is quite different. In the 90s, hockey was becoming a game of ‘goons,’ and there wasn’t another league that had more goons in it than the ECHL. It was a completely different game, and a completely different mindset. When you played hockey at the professional level, you were no longer representing your school and your friends, putting on that Notre Dame jersey which stood for something. At the professional level people were constantly being traded and cut, and there was a new person in the locker room every day, or so it seemed.”

“Being that the ECHL was such a ‘goon’ type league, coaching went like this. You’d come into the locker room at intermission and the coach would point out a player on the other team who was causing a lot of problems. Then he’d tape a $100 bill on the board and tell us, whoever can take him out of the game, as in have him medically removed from the game, would get the $100 bonus. That type of hockey was not fun for me. It wasn’t the same atmosphere as college hockey where you had fellow classmates on the team. While you had friends on the team, it was different than playing at Notre Dame, where you hung out together in the dorms, ate together in the dining halls, and even went on double dates together. It was very different. And if you didn’t have a passion for the game, a burning desire to keep playing, it was a difficult environment to exist in. I played the entire season for the Erie Panthers and at the end of the season I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I started exploring other options, and even though I was offered a try-out the following season with the New York Rangers AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Rangers, I decided it was time to move on from hockey.”

“At that point I decided it was time for me to put that Notre Dame degree to use, and pursue a career in federal law enforcement. I decided the best path to achieve this goal was to combine my Notre Dame degree with military training, so I enlisted in the Army. My father was in the Army, and the Army reserves for over 40 years, and so I grew up watching him go to drills and go on mission trips in the summer. Growing up with his Army uniform and gear around made an impression on me, and definitely caught my attention and peeked my interest. He read a lot of military books and enjoyed watching war movies. . . a lot of John Wayne movies. I think my interest in the military was always there, and when it came time to make a decision about what career I was going to pursue post hockey, it was a no brainer for me to join the Army. The military training I would receive in the Army combined with my Notre Dame degree would give me a strong resume to get into Federal Law Enforcement after the military, (which had always been an interest of mine), in addition to satisfying this interest I had in the military. I realized the timing was right to join the military, as I needed to do it while I was still young. When I was at Notre Dame I had done some research into pursuing a career in federal law enforcement, and discovered that they (the FBI and Secret Service) didn’t hire right out of college. They wanted people who had real world jobs or military experience. Joining the military was the perfect next step for me to increase my chances of getting hired in my desired career.”

“My time in the Army provided me with some of the hardest and most challenging experiences I’ve ever had in my life. The Army made me a man if you will. I had no choice but to mature with regard to responsibility, dedication and commitment. The Army is one of the branches that gives you options as to what role you want to perform when you enlist, as long as you score well enough on the entrance exams. And so when I enlisted, my choice was to become a Ranger, and because I scored high enough on my entrance exam, a Ranger contract is what I was offered. Now that didn’t guarantee that I was going to be a Ranger, but it did give me the opportunity, as long as I passed all of the requirements along the way. Once I completed Basic Training I was sent to Airborne school. And then, upon completing Airborne school, I was sent to the Ranger Indoctrination Program (RIP), which consisted of three weeks of mental and physical torture in order to find out if you had the fortitude to make it into one of the Ranger Battalions. Every day the challenges got harder and harder until we made it. I became a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, which along with the Navy SEALS and the ‘Green Berets’ is part of the Special Operations family. Once you make it into the Ranger Regiment the hard part isn’t over; you exist and work at the highest level of intensity the whole time you are there.”

The mental, physical and academic challenges placed in front of me were harder than I had ever seen before or since.

“My time in the Army as a Ranger was the most dedicated time of my life. The mental, physical and academic challenges placed in front of me were harder than I had ever seen before or since. You may think that the most challenging part of being in the Army is the physical aspect of the job, but that wasn’t the case for me. In the Ranger Regiment, one of my collateral duties, if you will, was that of a sniper. There is a great deal of math and science that goes behind hitting a moving target that’s 800 meters away, and subject to a 20 mile per hour wind. There is a science behind it. It’s much more than just aiming a rifle and pulling the trigger. And then when you’re dealing with explosives or jumping from an airplane, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Which, as an Army Ranger, means there is only the right way. Developing the skills and competency to be a Ranger in the Special Operations Forces is intense to say the least. You either do your job right or you’re gone. ‘Almost’ doesn’t count, and it certainly isn’t good enough. Either you can do it, or they find someone else who can. Being in that kind of environment, and understanding the consequences of there not being a second chance, matured me tremendously. It’s what made me a man. My Ranger training and experiences took me from a boy to a responsible, dedicated man.”

“When your time in the Army is through, all you can see is life on the other side. You’ve had enough and you are ready to move on. But now, looking back, the pain is gone and the memories are fond. The two things in my life that I am most proud of besides my family are being a graduate of Notre Dame, and my time and experiences in the Army as a Ranger. Being in the Army was a very important time for me. I met some amazing people in both of those places. Notre Dame is a special place amongst colleges and universities, but the 75th Ranger Regiment was a special place as well. In order to get to the Ranger Regiment you have to be a three-time volunteer. You go through Basic training, Airborne training and then the Ranger assessment and selection process in order to make it into one of the three Ranger Battalions within the 75th Ranger Regiment. Even with a college degree under my belt, I chose to enlist (rather than to become an officer) in order to have the opportunity to get to the Ranger Regiment. People are often surprised to learn that a significant percentage of the enlisted Special Operations soldiers are actually college educated. In my platoon alone we had graduates from Notre Dame, Harvard, West Virginia, Baylor, New Hampshire, and Ferrum College.”

“Following my time in the Army, I spent approximately 10 years with the U.S. Secret Service as a Special Agent. The job of a Special Agent is to protect select members of the Executive Branch, such as the President and Vice President. When not assigned to protection details, Special Agents conduct criminal investigations for various financial and electronic crimes. The first nine years I worked in the Syracuse, NY office, and in my 10th year I was in the process of moving from New York to Washington DC to do full-time protection detail when an opening in the U.S. Marshals Service became available in Syracuse. It was very similar to the job I had previously been doing for the Secret Service (physical protection and criminal investigative work), just for a different division of the United States government. While doing full-time protection detail in Washington D.C. would have been a new adventure for me, not having to move my family, and staying in Syracuse where the living was much more affordable was the better choice for all of us. My new role with the Marshals Service has become my latest adventure. I have been tracking fugitives and protecting Federal Judges with the U.S. Marshals Service for eight years. It’s definitely challenging. Some days I absolutely love my job and am so fortunate to do the work I do, and then the next day I can’t wait to retire; I’m sure most people feel that way about their job. I’m happy with the work I do within the Marshals Service, as each position has its own set of subtleties. My current assignment is pursing non-compliant sex offenders. If a sex-offender fails to register with the appropriate sex offender registry, they are considered a fugitive and will be pursued by the U.S. Marshals Service.”

“For example, if an individual is convicted of a sex offense, after they serve their time and are released back into society, they have to register with their community’s sex offender registry. It’s their responsibility and obligation to make sure they are properly registered, and if they move to a new town or new state and don’t register, they become non-compliant and are in violation of federal laws. Not all sex offenders are predatory, but some of them do pose a threat to their communities and move to avoid detection, to avoid the scrutiny of always having law enforcement looking over their shoulder. Those are the people that I am most concerned with, and it is my job to track them down. At times the job is disturbing, and at times the job is quite satisfying, knowing you are protecting the people in your own community as well as across the United States. Oftentimes we use our federal resources to help out local law enforcement officers do compliance checks. They send out their officers to check on their local sex offenders to make sure they are living at the address reflected on the registry, and then we help the local law enforcement agencies find the offenders who have left the area without updating their registration information. If I learn an offender no longer resides at their registered address, I will conduct an investigation to locate the offender to either bring them into compliance or arrest them. If my investigation shows the offender has moved to another city or state, I will send an investigative lead to my counterpart in that area to have the offender located and arrested. It’s great to be able to keep our communities safe and protect anyone else from being victimized. It brings me a great deal of satisfaction.”

The above is an excerpt from Eric Gregoire’s story in “Triumphs From Notre Dame: Echoes of Her Loyal Sons & Daughters.”

Coming soon, I’ve got some new interviews on deck. A former Notre Dame softball player who was on the first ND varsity team, a Notre Dame 110 high hurdle runner, a Notre Dame football player who played for Ara, and some funny Coach Holtz stories. What other stories would you like to see?

Cheers & GO IRISH!