Sweet Home senior one of 42 West Coast students awarded ROTC scholarship

Scott Swanson

Ricky Yunke wasn’t sure what was going on when he got called out of class Friday morning, March 23, to a meeting in the Sweet Home High School library.

“They told me I had a quick wrestling meeting,” said the senior. “That sounded a little weird.”

Yunke, though, left his AP Government class and dutifully headed to the library, where he walked in on a crowd of 50-plus family, coaches, teachers and friends – and U.S. Marine Corps. Capt. Mack Marcenelle, an executive recruiting officer for the Reserve Officer Training Corps from Portland, who was there to give him the good news that he’d just been selected for a full-ride ROTC scholarship at Oregon State University.

“I had no idea what was going on until I stepped around the corner and saw my parents and Capt. Marcenelle,” he said.

Marcenelle said the scholarship, which he said will likely total about $180,000 over four years, includes tuition fees and other expenses at the school. Yunke competed against 192 other applicants across the West, of which 42 were selected, Marcenelle said.

He said that, in addition to an “extremely high GPA” and good performances on the SAT and ACT tests, Yunke’s years in athletics and his community service as a search and rescue volunteer were deciding factors. Yunke was an acknowledged leader on the wrestling team, particularly as the Huskies won a third-place team trophy this year, and was a two-time state place-winner, including runner-up as a junior.

“We’re looking for well-rounded individuals,” Marcenelle said later, “not necessarily for someone who is the smartest in their class or the most physically fit. Someone who’s got it all. That’s Ricky. His application was stacked with statistics, letters of recommendation from teachers, people in the community. He had it all.”

He noted that Yunke has been a three-sport varsity athlete in wrestling, cross-country and track and has logged more than 1,000 hours on the Search and Rescue squad.

“We’re looking for someone who has taken the step to serve someone other than themselves,” Marcenelle said.

He told the crowd, “I had the pleasure of going to Los Angeles and briefing his application personally as he competed against all the other applicants and he stood out among all of them.”

He said Yunke will attend school like any other student, except that he will participate in physical training – “PT” – each morning at 6 a.m., as well as other military training during his college years.

“Gotta have coffee ready,” suggested one of Yunke’s teammates in the crowd, drawing a laugh.

Yunke will also attend Officer Candidate School, which Marcenelle described as a challenging “officer’s form of boot camp.”

“Officer Candidate School is not a training program, it’s an evaluation program. There’s a high attrition rate out of OCS. Guys who are selected to go there typically don’t make it.”

He said ROTC students typically have less trouble getting through OCS than civilians “like myself,” who come from normal college programs. He said he doesn’t think Yunke will have to worry about getting through OCS.

Following that step, Yunke would go through six months of Marine Corps officer training.

“Every Marine is a rifleman, so regardless of his job in the Marines he’ll be trained as a Marine rifleman first. Then, as an officer of Marines, he’ll be a leader of his Marines. He’ll be trained as an infantry platoon commander.”

After Infantry Commander School, Yunke would then move on to occupational training which, Marcenelle told the crowd, “could be anything from intelligence, communications, logistics. You can stick with infantry if you want. If you want to go blow things up, you can be a combat engineeer. There’s any number of things you can do.

“Needless to say,” he told Yunke, “I think the next six years of your life will be pretty well structured, pretty well planned.”

Yunke, who has a 3.50 GPA as he nears graduation, said he plans to major in psychology or sociology with the aim of pursuing military law enforcement. He said if he still likes it after the mandatory four years, he will probably pursue a career in the Marines.

He said he’s “always been interested in the military, since I was about 3 or 4. I just didn’t know what branch. I said, ‘Mommy, I want to be an Army man.’ She said, ‘Well, OK, you’ll get there.'”

He said he got interested in the ROTC scholarship after talking to some military personnel about their experiences and their recommendations.

“I looked on the Marines website and figured I had the potential to do it, so I went for it,” he said..

He said his wrestling was a big part of the process.

“You’re always working hard, always wanting to push yourself. And if you didn’t get recognized for working hard, you’re going, ‘Man, I thought I was working my hardest. Maybe I’ve got more.’

“Just pushing yourself to find that 200 percent when you thought you only had 100.”

His parents, Fritz and Shawn Yunke, thanked those at the announcement for their support, “to everyone who believed in him,” his mother put it.

“Thanks to everyone who helped him along the way,” Fritz Yunke said. “Friends, coaches, who kept him on track and not in trouble, who kept pushing with us to get him here.”

Longtime Coach Steve Thorpe told the crowd he was “very proud” of Ricky Yunke.

“You’re one of seven in Oregon,” he told Yunke. “You set yourself apart, stayed on track, stayed clean. You did the right thing, which isn’t always the easiest thing.”