Sgt. 1st Class Jaime Eduardo Contreras, Jr. was a drill sergeant candidate in his eighth week of the 10-week course at the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy. ‘He was uncomfortably optimistic in the face of adversity,’ said Sgt. 1st Class Reginald Turnipseed, Contreras’s squad leader and friend. (Photo by Nathan Clinebelle)

Fort Jackson community honors life of fallen Soldier

By Emily Hileman, Fort Jackson Public Affairs

Soldiers and drill sergeants from the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy and Fort Jackson gathered at Fort Jackson’s Main Post Chapel, June 20 to pay their last respects to Sgt. 1st Class Jaime E. Contreras, Jr.

Contreras was a drill sergeant candidate in his eighth week of the 10-week course at the Drill Sergeant Academy. Contreras was participating in the land navigation course when he did not return to the origin point at the appointed time, June 12. He was later found unresponsive and pronounced de-ceased at the scene.

Contreras was passionate about cooking, earning his diploma in Culinary Arts from Scottsdale Community College. He worked at restaurants in Phoenix and Sedona, Arizona, prior to taking a position with an award-winning restaurant in Las Vegas.

In 2011, while working in Las Vegas, Contreras decided to combine his love of cooking with his dedication to others and enlistment in the Army as a Culinary Specialist.

“The first thing he said was, ‘Drill sergeant, I joined the Army in 2014 and prior to joining the Army in 2014, I was in Las Vegas living my best life as a cook. I love to cook’,” recalled Sgt. 1st Class Reginald Turnipseed, Contreras’s squad leader and friend.

Turnipseed, a drill sergeant leader at the Academy, said the first thing he noticed about Contreras was his smile.

“He was uncomfortably optimistic in the face of adversity,” he said. “… I believe that adversity builds character and I never saw him in a bad mood.”

“He put others before himself,” said chaplain (Capt.) Channing Blake. “One of the ways he did this was through food … I had a chance to talk to Sgt. 1st Class Contreras Jr.’s mother, who told me of a very fond memory of her son.” In the story, Contreras was making a lot of noise just to make a simple sandwich.

After asking what he was doing, Contreras said, “I can’t have mayonnaise out of a jar. I have to make it myself.”

“As if only the uncivilized would dare to eat mayonnaise out of a jar,” Blake said. “Sergeant 1st Class Contreras knew how to make people laugh, which is a gift that we will continue to carry with us long after we leave here today.”

Contreras’s first assignment was with 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, where he served as a food operations specialist. During his time at Fort Drum, Contreras deployed to Afghanistan from 2012 – 2014.

Following his deployment, he moved to Fort Liberty (formerly Fort Bragg), North Carolina, and served as a food operations noncommissioned officer and culinary noncommissioned officer with 505th Para-chute Infantry Regiment.

Contreras deployed to Afghanistan for a second time in 2019 and upon his return he was assigned to 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment and served as the advanced culinary noncommissioned officer until he was sent to Fort Jackson to become a drill sergeant in 2023.

“He was the kind of man that loved his children and Family,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rickey Jackson, Drill Sergeant Academy commandant. “Everything he did in life was about taking care of his people. I’m proud to have served alongside one of the most resilient, adaptable and ready drill sergeants in the U.S. Army.”

Contreras’ awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal with a c-device, Armed Forces Service Medal, Noncommissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon with numeral two, NATO Medal with one Bronze Star, Parachutist Badge and Marksmanship Badge for carbine.

“He had so much pride in wearing his maroon beret,” Turnipseed said. The maroon beret has been the international symbol of airborne forces since World War II. “He had so much pride in wearing his air-borne wings.”

Contreras impacted countless lives with his laughter, leadership and cooking.