By Pashtana Usufzy
UNLV sophomore Jackie Trujillo loves to help others. That desire drove her to join the Nevada National Guard at just 17 years old. It’s the same desire that pushed her to lead her family and a stranger to safety in the midst of the Oct. 1, 2017 shooting on the Las Vegas Strip. Now, the survivor is taking on yet another service role: coronavirus first responder with the National Guard.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Trujillo already had a delicate work-life balance maintaining her job, her National Guard duties and the five spring courses she was taking in order to double major in criminal justice and communication studies. When the virus upended daily life in Southern Nevada, Trujillo, who plans to become an attorney and work with other mass trauma survivors, did what she’s always done: push forward in an effort to make life better for others.
How did you handle the transition to remote learning?
I’m someone who likes schedules. Schedules are a big thing for me, especially after Route 91. Sticking to a schedule and having that be the same thing every day, every week, it’s just so helpful for me. It helps make life easier, so transitioning to online — I’ve done online before in high school — but it kind of threw me off. It was a little bit hard. I got stressed out. I was still working at the time, aside from the military and aside from school, and my hours got cut there. It just threw me for a loop. It took me a few weeks to adjust and find a new schedule that brought me some consistency again.
What it’s like being part of the coronavirus response team while taking classes?
I love being able to help. I had the opportunity to help, and I jumped on it. It was something I wanted to be part of. Juggling it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought. I think the hardest part is just the workload, but as soon as I found out that I was being put on orders, I reached out to all of my professors, who were absolutely amazing in responding and letting me know they were offering their support. And the National Guard is super supportive, making sure that we are staying on top of our schoolwork and furthering our education.
What is your role with the National Guard?
I am the radio telephone operator, so the exact details of everything I do — I can’t exactly go into details about. I help assist with that and anything else that is needed of me. It helps with communication. Just knowing that I’m doing something to help — that’s what is important to me. Knowing that if there’s anything I can do at all in making the situation a little bit better or making progress, that’s what I’m happy about, and I would do that in any way that I could.
How do you maintain the balance among classes and your other activities?
The classes I’m taking right now — I’m in an Urban Adventure class that I love, I think that’s probably my favorite class I’m taking right now — [The National Guard] is really good about trying to give us time. If there’s a moment where I can step away or I can sit in a separate room for an hour to do schoolwork, they encourage that. They’ve given me that opportunity, so I’ve been able to attend a few of the [online urban adventure] classes and be as much a part of it as I can, and if something pops up where I need to help, then I’ll step away for a moment.
What’s your new routine?
Right now, my hours are — I wake up around 4 in the morning. I’m working usually 12-hour days, so I come home and I usually take that time to do my homework or during my lunch I’ll try to get homework done. It’s just about creating time more than anything. That’s one big adjustment I did make, writing down on paper, “What are my priorities? What do I need to get done? What are the due dates?” It’s helpful because I have a really good support system from my professors to my leadership at the National Guard to my family. Everybody has shown their support and helps me find the time or create time or helps me prioritize.
What led you to join the military while you were still in high school?
My family is actually from Cuba. My grandparents came here during the revolution. I wanted to find any opportunity to be able to serve and do something to help other people, and I found out that the National Guard allowed for me to enlist at 17 and that there was an opportunity for me to do a split-up program, so I was able to go in the summer before my senior year [of high school], came back and finished my senior year
It was definitely intimidating. Everybody who joins the military has one moment, usually in the beginning of their training, where they think, “What did I get myself into?” Being so young, I had those moments where I was like, “It’s summer. I could be swimming and hanging out with my friends.” That’s why I always have a “reason why.” My reason why I joined the military, it kept me going and was my reminder. It was my form of having a constant throughout the whole thing. I think my “why” has stayed the same. There’s just been things added to it now. Obviously going through Route 91 has added to my list of reasons why.
How important is education in your life?
It’s the most important thing. I think that our education and our ability to learn is beyond important. I am the first child in my family to graduate high school and go to college right after, so that’s a big accomplishment for my family. I take a lot of pride in that. I take a lot of pride in learning and growing and hopefully creating a better future and being able to pass down more knowledge.
Did the pandemic recall feelings of the Oct. 1 shootings for you?
It kind of in a way did bring back that past trauma and those past issues. It takes you right back even though it may be a completely different situation, just another change to life and change to what you’re used to. I think I had a slightly easier time knowing that I was able to get through what I got through before, and while this is unpredictable and was so unexpected, it helps me have that same attitude. If I can do the work, I can get through this also.
What advice do you have for peers who are struggling to find that new normal?
Even though the world is changing and things are happening and life is different, find a way to ground yourself and keep you focused on the positive things. Setting schedules, I think, is the biggest thing and being forgiving. In the beginning of something crazy like this happening, obviously it’s not easy to say, “OK, I’m going to create a schedule for myself and make life be normal for me.” That’s not normal. Recognizing, this is hard, this is a difficult change. I think it’s just recognizing that it’s a difficult time, and it’s OK to not have it completely under your belt. It’s going to take time to readjust.
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