By Maj. Olha VandergriffJune 19, 2019
From sunrise to sunset the engineers are laying down the sturdy foundation for schools and a clinic in Huehuetanago, Guatemala. But this time they have an unusual addition to their ranks. Cadet Jenna Yorko, a native of Philadelphia, has joined the hardworking team.
Currently a 3.5-year scholarship cadet through Drexel University Reserve Officer Training Program, Yorko attends Thomas Jefferson University to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. Yorko did not get there by accident. A recipient of a U.S. Army Reserve Minuteman scholarship, Yorko developed herself through years of dedication to family, church, and varsity rowing. Through dedication and devotion, Yorko is conquering new heights.
Guaranteed Reserve Force Duty Scholarship Minuteman Campaign allows college students to receive a college scholarship, a monthly stipend, and a book stipend. Students who choose this route also have to participate in a Simultaneous Membership Program and attend battle assemblies with a local Reserve unit while still being a college student. Nearly 3,000 schools across the U.S. participate in this program. After receiving the scholarship and signing the contract, the students earn a rank of cadet in the Reserve Officer Training Program.
"I heard about ROTC from friends. When I heard about it I thought, 'Wow, this is for me.' I didn't even visit the program, and I applied for Minuteman scholarship," Yorko described. "There was an event at college and there was a big STEM event, and my recruiter told me that this scholarship will pay for my school."
Instead of fun summer vacation, Yorko worked the whole summer on the Minuteman scholarship packet. "The funny thing is the prerequisites changed so much since I did it. First you had to enlist. So before I even knew I got the scholarship, I had to enlist. I had a basic ship date," said Yorko.
But Yorko's four-year scholarship application was initially denied. Yorko was packing her suitcases to attend boot camp. After a week of looking through all the paperwork again, she was awarded a 3.5 year Minuteman scholarship.
When asked why she chose mechanical engineering as a course of the study, Yorko explained that she fell in love with it after taking an introductory class as a senior in high school. A junior in college, she is one of the four cadets who received Minuteman scholarship out of total 90 cadets. She is one of the few receiving a STEM degree in mechanical engineering.
In addition to ROTC, Yorko is also a distinguished rower. She has been rowing since ninth grade. Yorko decided to attend school for five years and earn part of her master's degree. "Five years in school is a personal decision," added Yorko. "I was rowing and doing engineering so it was a lot. So I decided to take less credits to get better grades. I just made a dean's list with 3.6 GPA."
Between studying and rowing, Yorko had to find and join a U.S. Army Reserve unit. Capt. James Carty, company commander for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 365th Engineer Battalion met Yorko when he took command. "She was able to integrate with various groups of Soldiers and works well with them." Carty added, "She is very intelligent, outgoing, and definitely not afraid to get her hands dirty and go an extra mile."
365th is currently on training exercise Beyond the Horizon 2019, in Guatemala. Beyond the Horizon is an annual joint training exercise, in which U.S. military forces specializing in construction, engineering, and health care train to improve operational readiness and strengthen relationships with all forces, while also providing tangible benefits to the Guatemalan people. During this exercise the engineers of 365th are building three schools and one medical clinic to leave the host nation with tangible benefits.
When asked why bring a cadet to a training exercise in Guatemala, Lt. Col. Gregory Sawmelle, the 365th commander, a native of Washington, Pa. simply answered, "Why not? I'm all about people coming to better themselves."
"She is deliberate about choosing to be better," added Sawmelle. "I think people who make a decision to become better improve the team just solely by their attitude. Good attitude begets good attitude."
Having a cadet among the ranks is an unusual event. Cadets are future officers in training and are not part of regular rank structure. Cadets are also college students who work on their bachelor's degrees.
"I just showed up and they were like, 'Aw, there is a cadet here,'" Yorko said. She joined a team of technical engineers.
A New York native, Spc. Zjana Ray, a 365th technical engineer, explained that their job includes land survey, topographical survey, drafting and design, and soil testing for initial site surveys.
"This was my first time working with a cadet, I had no idea what the dot rank was. I just asked her, what is your rank?" added Ray.
Ray was impressed by Yorko's ability. "I think it was nice to see where most officers may have started," she said. "It was interesting to hear that side of the army."
Once Yorko had to go to a demolition range at Ft. Indiantown Gap, Pa. She had never have been to one and had to serve as a radiotelephone operator. "It was really scary, but people were super supporting and I'm learning that noncommissioned officers are my best friends. They are telling me what to say on the radio and 5 minutes later I'm doing it myself," said Yorko with a wide smile.
She integrated really well with the team, learning from each section and building everyone up. "Sometimes they call me ma'am, sometimes ca-dot, sometimes future ma'am. It's sort of a joke," joked Yorko. Observing the team interaction during the training exercise in Guatemala, it is clear that Soldiers took Yorko right in.
Yorko is on the path to graduate in 2021 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and with an additional twenty credits toward her master's degree.
She would like to commission in the U.S. Army Reserve as a cyber or military intelligence officer. Surprisingly, she does not want to become an engineer officer. "I'm working with engineers and computer automated drafting on the civilian side. I don't want to align my engineer civilian work with my service," explained Yorko. "I think it would be cool to do something on weekends that is completely different than I do during the week."
From champion rower to a college student and a recipient of the prestigious Minuteman scholarship, Yorko is paving her future to make a difference in the world. Her ability to learn from Soldiers is helping her progress to commission as a second lieutenant In the U.S. Army Reserve.