People to Watch: Meet the Iowa National Guard's only female infantry officer
2nd Lt. Trang Jorgensen is the Iowa National Guard's first and only female officer in the infantry. The Des Moines Register
Trang Jorgensen wanted to be in the military starting when she was 7.
A rebellious Vietnamese girl, as she put it, Jorgensen remembered watching Army advertisements of soldiers jumping out of airplanes and kicking down doors. She wanted to be something cool, but she also wanted to make a difference.
So a month after her 17th birthday, she ran into a recruiter — well, really, she tracked him down — and was told she could join the armed forces with a waiver. Jorgensen got her mother, who came to America from Vietnam when Jorgensen was 6, to sign the paperwork, kicking off her journey of service.
Now 25, 2nd Lt. Jorgensen serves as the first and only woman in the infantry in the Iowa National Guard, overseeing a platoon of four squads that average between 36 and 40 soldiers. Her unit, like her husband's, maintains readiness for combat.
Jorgensen, one of the Des Moines Register’s People to Watch in 2019, plans to attend schools and training in the new year to better develop herself as a leader.
A desire to be the 'front line of defense'
Jorgensen's grandfather, an American soldier, went to Vietnam during the war in the 1970s. There, he met Jorgensen's maternal grandmother.
When the troops were pulled back, Jorgensen's grandfather went with them. He and Jorgensen's grandmother never reconnected, Jorgensen said.
Jorgensen, who was born in Bien Hoa, Vietnam, said her mother, with American blood, came to the United States through a refugee program in 2000. But as the family flew to California, their sponsor in Chicago dropped out, Jorgensen said.
The next day, though, they were picked up by a sponsor in Des Moines.
Jorgensen feels she has a lot to give back to the U.S. for the opportunities granted to her family. She recalled her parents taking her to a memorial site as a child, thinking she wanted to be a part of something bigger.
Jorgensen was a high school junior when she joined the military. That summer, she went to Fort Jackson, an Army installation in Columbia, South Carolina, for her basic training. It was both a cakewalk and a learning experience.
When Jorgensen enlisted, women were not allowed in combat roles. She was given a large packet of opportunities with red lines through positions she could not hold.
She was essentially given the choice of a becoming a medic or working in intelligence, she said. She thought: "I don't have a medical bone in my body."
After she graduated, Jorgensen went to her advanced individual training at Fort Huachuca in Cochise County, Arizona, where she worked in intelligence, and she said she grew to love it.
But when Defense Secretary Ash Carter, under President Barack Obama, announced in December 2015 that military positions would be open to women, Jorgensen jumped at the opportunity. It was months before she began preparing for officer candidate school in South Dakota with the intention of becoming a military intelligence officer.
She did not think about the transition for more than a second.
"I have always wanted to be the front line of the defense," Jorgensen said. "I want to be boots on the ground."
Jorgensen's passion for the infantry only grew while she was in intelligence, where she understood the "symbiotic relationships" between combat and intelligence.
When Jorgensen was commissioned Aug. 20, 2016, her mentors and fellow officers commended her work ethic and skills.
"When everyone else quits, Jorgensen's still running," Jeff Garretto, who trained alongside Jorgensen, said in a National Guard news release. "I’d go to combat with her in a minute."
During recent interviews at Camp Dodge, the military installation in Johnston where Jorgensen drills, those above and below her in rank echoed a similar sentiment.
Capt. Jacob Johnson praised Jorgensen for her professionalism. Robert Ball, a platoon leader who coordinates training plans with Jorgensen, described her as resilient and driven — a leader treated by her soldiers like any other infantry member.
"Her being a woman has had no impact," Ball said, describing the treatment Jorgensen prefers. "She does her job and she does it well."
Jorgensen remained the Iowa National Guard's lone female infantry officer.
The agency has 12 other women who are enlisted soldiers in combat arms: six combat engineers, five in field artillery and another who serves as a field artillery officer. Those figures do not include women in the Iowa Air National Guard.
Lt. Col. Michael Wunn, a spokesman for the Iowa National Guard, said roughly 1,000 of its 6,600 members are women — about 16 percent.
The Army National Guard has 160 infantry and 43 armor female soldiers assigned to various combat arms units across the federal agency, a spokesperson there said.
A 'go-getter' with a toddler and plans
Eveleen Rae, Jorgensen's 18-month-old daughter, ran around the soldiers taking food to their tables during a December family day potluck at Camp Dodge.
The toddler's shirt read: "Ain't no daddy like the one I got."
Jorgensen's husband, Trent, has been in the military for 13 years. He serves as a staff sergeant and squad leader.
Trent Jorgensen described the woman he married in 2015 as a loving mother who brings the same affection to her soldiers. She would do anything for them, he said.
"She's a go-getter," he said. "This has been a dream her whole life."
The couple, whose personalities compliment each other, met at Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack and Hotel in Altoona, where they worked. Trent has since left that job for one at Camp Dodge, but Trang and her mother, one of her inspirations, still work there.
Her mother, who runs a nail salon in Perry in Dallas County, made a number of sacrifices for Jorgensen and her five siblings, something for which she is thankful.
When her family came to America, they had nothing but the clothes on their backs and a couple of suitcases, Jorgensen said.
Now Jorgensen, who lives in Des Moines, sees herself as someone given the chance to pursue her childhood dream. After earning a psychology degree from Upper Iowa University in 2017, something she worked on while pregnant, she hopes to someday study criminal law or get into a high-level government sector position.
And as she prepares for annual training, her first as a platoon leader, her message is simple: Gender isn't a barrier for someone who wants to serve in a combat role.
"Join the infantry if you want to be part of that less than 1 percent that is currently serving," Jorgensen said. "If you have the passion to serve, do it."
About 'People to Watch'
The Des Moines Register's "15 People to Watch in 2019" are movers and shakers, givers and doers. They were chosen by Register news staff from scores of reader nominations. Their stories will run in the Register through Jan. 6. To read about past People to Watch, visit desmoinesregister.com/peopletowatch.
BORN: Bien Hoa, Vietnam
LIVES: Des Moines
EDUCATION: Bachelor of science psychology, Upper Iowa University, in 2017
CAREER: Jorgensen serves as a second lieutenant at the Iowa National Guard. She also works at Prairie Meadows Casino, Racetrack and Hotel in Altoona.
CLAIM TO FAME: The first woman to "branch" infantry in the Iowa National Guard
FAMILY: Her husband, Trent, 30, and their daughter, Eveleen Rae, 18 months
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- Caitlin Pedati, 'Iowa's doctor,' will offer calm guidance when pestilence is on the prowl
- Meet the Iowa National Guard's only female infantry officer, Trang Jorgensen
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- Justin Mandelbaum is trying to make Des Moines as hip as Austin, Portland or Nashville
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