Diné is first to graduate from NMSU's ROTC program
LAS CRUCES, N.M., May 2, 2013
Emily Juchniewicz fought hard to maintain the group's cadence.
With 55 pounds of military gear strapped to her back, she struggled to keep up with the taller cadets' longer strides. Trudging down Triviz, up Missouri and then back around to the New Mexico State University campus, the Army ROTC cadet completed the eight-mile ruck march, earning the respect of her teammates.
In May, when she graduates with a degree in community health, Juchniewicz will leave a legacy as the first female Native American to graduate from NMSU's Army ROTC program in the College of Arts and Sciences.
A member of the Navajo Nation, she also will be the first among her siblings to receive a bachelor's degree, and the first in her community to become an officer in the United States Armed Forces. Two men from Apache tribes have previously graduated from the NMSU program.
"Cadet Juchniewicz has opened the door wide, not only for herself, but her family, tribe, Native Americans and females," said Lt. Col. Andrew Taylor, professor of military science at NMSU Army ROTC. "She is a leader and will make a huge difference for our Army, our country, and her community."
Juchniewicz hails from the Tohajiilee, N.M., located about 45 miles west of Albuquerque.
She said she enrolled in ROTC at NMSU to support a friend. While her friend dropped out after the first semester, Juchniewicz stuck with it and found her calling. The goal that kept her going - becoming an officer.
"I guess it's more of how much do you really want it," Juchniewicz said. "I think that's what kind of got me. I'm the first in my family to ever become an officer; even in the community there are no officers. It was more of making a difference and setting an example that Native Americans can overcome and rise up."
NMSU's Department of Military Science and Tactics program was activated during the 1902-03 school year. Since then, the Bataan Battalion has commissioned more than 1,200 officers.
Juchniewicz is among nine ROTC cadets graduating next month. When she enters the reserve component, she will join an elite group - less than one percent of reservists self-identify as Alaska Native/American Indian. Fewer still are female and officers.
Junchniewicz will enter into the reserves and begin a basic officer leadership course, which is the first step in becoming a medical service officer. She has been assigned to Fort Lewis in Washington where she will begin duties as a second lieutenant. The community health major plans to return to her community one day where she will work to improve health conditions in the Navajo Nation, the largest indigenous tribe in the U.S.
"I want to change and minimize all the health issues you hear about on the reservation, and educate them about different alternatives," Juchniewicz said. "By demonstrating and educating how you can eat better. This is how you can reduce getting diabetes."?
Currently, 80 cadets are enrolled in the program. Like Juchniewicz, they joined for various reasons including financial incentives and service to country. In the program, cadets acquire skills in leadership and time management, essential tools that employers seek.
"We are the best leadership course in the United States," Taylor said. "Once you're commissioned, you're guaranteed not only a job, but a career as long as you want, either in the reserve component or active duty."
"The best thing is the relationship building," Juchniewicz said. "You would never expect the relationships or the people you meet, because later down the road, the Army is a small world and you'll see them time and again."
For Juchniewicz, an important aspect of the program is the confidence that students gain while getting into top physical condition.
"You have to get over your fears," Juchniewicz said. "For me, I had to do a water confidence course and that is what scared me the most, because you have to trust your equipment and just kind of throw yourself in the water."
Each week, cadets participate in rigorous physical fitness training, military science classroom instruction and leadership activities where their knowledge is used in a field setting. Twice a year, the cadets participate in field-training exercises.
"In the fall, it's more of a fun team building event where we go to an installation to learn, do an obstacle course, a hand-grenade assault course and have team building," Taylor said. "The spring FTX is usually a combined exercise with other schools where we do tactical training for four days."
Traditionally, the NMSU program lasts four years, but cadets also may enter during their junior year after attending a four-week leadership-training course at Fort Knox, Ky.
"Coming from a Native American background, it's important to serve because we have so many privileges and rights in this country and we have to protect them," Juchniewicz said.
"We take pride in the accomplishments of all our cadets, either serving our Army or as citizens," Taylor aded. "Cadet Juchniewicz's commissioning will serve as the end of her undergraduate chapter and the beginning of another chapter of commissioned service. Watch for her in the future - she will go places and make the world a better place."
(Editor's note: This article was originally published by the New Mexico State University press office and written by Tonya Suther.)