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 motivations was her father.
Kovach’s 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 meant he was placed in an infantry platoon when he arrived in Vietnam.
Schilinski took pride in his role. “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,” he 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 admired the camaraderie that outlasted both time and distance.
As a child, she 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 retrained as an infantry soldier and was assigned as the squad leader for 2nd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 112th infantry Regiment.
During training in Fort Pickett, Virginia, she worked to get her squad through the requirements in order to be validated for live-fire exercises at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California. Training started out with soldiers working in buddy teams, progressing to team movements, and finally to squad movement techniques. Kovach said she 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,” she said.
Building a Team
Although she has seen a lot of tactical growth in her squad, Kovach said she 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.
More than 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,” he said.
The bonds that are formed between soldiers are based on trust and a shared struggle. This 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.