U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Shireman first attended a New Jersey Devils game on Halloween 2015 when his girlfriend, Danika, invited him to the team’s 3-2 shootout win. With plans to attend Saturday’s season finale on his 31st birthday, Shireman made the trip to Prudential Center for the April 5 game as well, to be recognized as the Hero of the Game.
Shireman enlisted in the Army as a senior in high school, back in November 2002, serving until early this year, but said he originally had intended to join the Navy. Shireman’s stepfather, then a sergeant in the Army, convinced him life as a soldier would be a better fit than as a seaman. Shireman said he did not remember what specifically convinced him, but said his stepfather spoke about what life in the service was like, and the benefits associated with the branch.
During his years of service, Shireman was deployed to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in 2005, as part of a peacekeeping mission. For six months, Shireman helped operate security checkpoints and outposts in the area, helping support the continuation of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Beginning in June 2008, Shireman spent a year in Iraq, based in Baghdad. With ongoing missions in both areas, he wasn’t able to disclose much about his time there.
“We’ve always been pushed about op-sec (operational security), and we’ve had a couple of people get in trouble about it,” he said.
For the past five years, Shireman has also volunteered his time as a firefighter, currently in his second year with West Deptford’s Verga Fire Company. Shireman said the transition was fairly easy. “I’m still helping people…I’m still guarding this country, and as a firefighter I’m guarding the township,” Shireman said. Five years ago, he recalls looking for ways to increase his community service, choosing firefighting as the best way he could help.
Across both fields, Shireman brings his skills as a mechanic to the table, a trade he said he developed while in high school. “Working on our firetrucks, the fact that they’re diesels, it helps the department a lot,” he said. Both the Army and Fire Company have command structures, which Shireman said helped ease the transition.
Shireman said he was surprised to learn he’d be the Devils’ Hero of the Game. “It’s good to see organizations like the Devils supporting firefighters, first responders, military, because you don’t see that very much anymore; you really don’t.”
Relatively new to the sport, Shireman said he hasn’t yet found a favorite player, but team mascot N.J. Devil quickly became one of his favorite elements of coming to The Rock. “Seeing him getting the crowd hyped…that’s what makes a good team and a good mascot,” Shireman said.