Sailing into success: Naval officer Eigenberg receives Governor’s Cup, named top midshipman

Keeley Meier, staff writer

Photo by Tammy Eppens

Major Robert Eppens, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) swears in Midshipman Matt Eigenberg on May 8 at Iowa State University.

Matt Eigenberg is a shining example of how far a strong support system can take you.

And, in Eigenberg’s case, it has taken him all the way to his newest rank: a commissioned officer in the United States Navy.

But that’s not Eigenberg’s only accomplishment as of late. Along with graduating cum laude from Iowa State University last weekend with a mechanical engineering degree, he was also named top midshipman for his unit and was awarded the Governor’s Cup Award, which is presented to the most outstanding ROTC graduate from each branch throughout the state of Iowa.

Eigenberg, who graduated from Brandon Valley High School in 2017, credits his support system—the Brandon Valley community—with guiding him to where he is now. 

His parents, Jackie and Kevin, are also thankful to the community for the support of their son. 

“Yes, it’s about Matthew’s successes, but it’s how and why he got it,” Jackie said. “That’s what this community has done for him—well, all three of our boys.”

Jackie and Kevin have two older sons, Austin and Eric, who also graduated from BVHS and attended Iowa State.

Austin, Matt’s oldest brother, also pursued a military career, enlisting in the Marine Corps following high school and utilized the GI Bill to attend school at Iowa State. Austin and Matt were freshmen together and graduated together on May 8. 

Matt said he was inspired by his oldest brother. 

“Seeing the pride and seeing the respect that he had going down that path really inspired me to go into the military as well,” Matt said.

Not only did all three boys attend Iowa State, Matt, Austin and Eric all graduated with engineering degrees—mechanical, construction and aerospace, respectively. 

And, for Matt, he will take his mechanical engineering degree and put it to good use serving the country he loves.

“I don’t know when it started, but Matthew has always been very patriotic,” Jackie said. “That has been some inspiration for him too, like, ‘Now I can serve my country.’”

In June, Matt will report for nuclear power school for 18 months in Charleston, S.C. After this, he hopes to work on a submarine.

“Cross your fingers for Pearl Harbor,” Jackie joked. “I want to go to Hawaii.”

While Matt’s new assignment in Charleston may be rigorous, his parents have no doubt that he’ll handle it with ease. 

“Matt is Matt,” Kevin said. “He just makes everything look easy, and it’s not.”

Kevin and Jackie describe their son as “always willing to help, independent and perseverant.”

They also describe him as a leader.

“He’s always wanted to be at the table,” Jackie said. “He’s always wanted to be that leader.”

When Matt was in high school, he was involved with football, wrestling and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

“Not only was he an FCA huddle leader for the middle school kids, he took it one step further and went to the Black Hills camp,” Jackie said. “He always takes it to that next level of leadership.”

But, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the Naval officer. During his freshman year at Iowa State, Jackie and Kevin remember taking a trip to Ames to have a heart-to-heart about joining the Navy. 

“It was really hard for him to make the decision to [join] the Navy,” Kevin said. “There was a point when he filled out the paperwork and was afraid to go. Matthew didn’t think he could do it.” 

It was after the heart-to-heart that Jackie said she saw a shift in Matt and from that point on, he was fully committed to the ROTC and all it had to offer. 

Matt hasn’t relied solely on his parents for support, though. Among a plethora of community members who pointed him in the right direction, Matt cites Michelle Stemwedel as one of his biggest supporters. 

Matt met Stemwedel, a counselor at BHVS, when he was a freshman. 

“My buddies and I were being silly freshmen, calling her over to our lunch table, and it got to the point where we’d call her over once a week and we had children’s books for her to read to us,” Matt said. “She would read to us at the lunch table, but that just grew through the years. I don’t think we ever had a conversation that was less than an hour just because we were talking about the future, college, ROTC and what was next.”

Their connection grew throughout the years, and Matt chose Stemwedel to “pin” him during his Naval commissioning ceremony—which is part of the ceremony where a new officer’s rank insignia, cover and jacket are switched out from those carrying midshipman rank to an officer rank. 

“I was extremely honored to be asked to be a part of his commissioning ceremony,” Stemwedel said. “Helping students realize and achieve their goals and dreams is one of the best parts of my job; having the chance to be present for one of these milestones will forever be one of the highlights of my career.”

Matt says Stemwedel was an easy pick for the ceremony.

“She was one of the main reasons why I was able to go to Iowa State on the ROTC scholarship, so it was really cool to go full circle there,” Matt said.

He says that Stemwedel also served as a larger representation of the Brandon Valley community in its entirety.

“I also wanted it to be a representation of all my high school mentors, teachers, coaches and all those people that really guided me to ROTC and engineering at Iowa State,” Matt said. “To me, it was a big, symbolic thing that my four years of college wouldn’t have been possible without all my mentors, coaches and teachers at Brandon Valley.”

Stemwedel says one of Matt’s most important qualities is the ability to recognize those who have helped him achieve his goals.

“Matt has always been humble and grateful to others,” she said. “By the time Matt was a freshman in high school, he had already recognized the art of asking for help, learning from others and showing gratitude. I know he gets this from his parents. They have done an amazing job raising Matt.”

For his parents, they say that raising Matt was easy.

“We’ve never had to worry about him,” Jackie reflected.

Even when he faced challenges, Kevin says that Matt has encountered them with his head held high.

“In grade school, he got his teeth knocked out,” Kevin said. “Usually, you’re self-conscious about things, and he’s this gap-toothed kid growing up, but he didn’t make it a thing, and nobody made it a thing.”

“It’s just very humbling to see your boys grow up into nice young men,” he added.

Matt and his parents have a long list of people they attribute to his success, such as Jeff Lockner, Leah Lockner, Matt Christensen, Wade Else, Scott Wickersham, Gregg Talcott and organizations like the Brandon Valley Booster Club and Sioux Valley Energy.

As a whole, though, Matt says it’s all of Brandon Valley that helped him get to where he is.

“There’s not really one person or thing that has stood out exceptionally at Brandon Valley—it’s just been the whole culmination of the community, the sports, the education, the programs, the teachers,” Matt said. 

Matt’s parents recognize this, too, saying that they’re thankful their boys grew up in a community like Brandon Valley.

“I guess the point is that there are so many things kids have the opportunity to do here in this city,” Jackie said. “You’ve got to take advantage of it, and you’ve got to be an advocate for yourself. It’s not just going to happen; you have to go and get it, and that’s what Matt did. Now, he’s getting rewarded for it.”

And, as for Matt, he’ll continue on with his Naval and mechanical engineering careers and says he’s excited for the continued opportunities and friendships he knows he’ll gain. 

Meanwhile, his strong support system will continue cheering him on from the sidelines.

“He has made all this possible through perseverance and grit,” Stemwedel said. “I am also excited to see him continue his journey. The world is a better place because of people like Matt Eigenberg.”



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