By Maj. Gregory McElwain | 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry DivisionAugust 21, 2018
WILLOW GROVE, Pa. -- In 2004, Staff Sgt. Rachel Kovach joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. She had many reasons to join, including the call of patriotism and a desire for training, but one of the strongest motivators to join the military was her father.
She explained that her father, John Schilinski, was drafted and sent to Vietnam. He was officially trained as an Industrial Gas Production Specialist, but the needs of the Army put him in an Infantry platoon when he arrived in Vietnam.
Schilinski took pride in his role with his Infantry platoon. "I was a squad leader, and I had 17 guys in my squad. I knew every one of them and they knew me. I never had any problems with my guys," Schilinski said.
Kovach, a Slovan, Pennsylvania, native, recalls her father sharing a beer and stories with fellow Vietnam veterans for as far back as she can remember. She saw how the conversation flowed and she admired the camaraderie that outlasted both time and distance.
As a child, Kovach recognized the value in the friendship these Soldiers shared. "I figured that their connection was veteran-related and I thought that would be my way to connect with my dad," Kovach said.
Six months ago, Kovach was re-trained as an 11B Infantry Soldier, and given a new role. She was assigned as the squad leader for 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 112th infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division.
Her new position as squad leader brought her to Fort Pickett, Virginia, where she worked to get her squad through the requirements in order to be validated for live-fire exercises at the National Training Center. Working as buddy teams, progressing to team movements, and finally to squad movement techniques, Kovach saw great progress.
"We did everything tactically and doctrinally that we were supposed to do. It felt really good to go through the steps and train correctly," Kovach said.
Although she has seen a lot of tactical growth in her squad, Kovach believes the most valuable training was the time she spent building trust with her troops.
"Just spending time with each other on our down time, the chit chat, the small stuff, allowed me to get to know my guys and build trust. I am not from an Infantry background, and they were a little leery having me in charge of them, and I definitely had reservations. But this is the real deal," she said.
Over 45 years ago, John Schilinski had a similar experience. "Me and my guys grew strong relationships. We were battle buddies. We were a handful of guys that got along good, if I got a package from home we shared everything," Schilinski recalls.
The bonds that are formed between Soldiers are based on trust and a shared struggle. This has held true throughout our nation's conflicts, and is still true today.
"I think Rachel is an outstanding Soldier. As a dad, I am damn proud," Schilinski said.
"Dad is a tough, hard charger," Kovach said with a laugh. "We talk every day. I am always with my father."