Woodbury’s Yurek family turns military service into a tradition

by | Nov 2018

Photo: Tate Carlson

November 11 is Veterans Day. Many Americans have been touched by military service in one way or another, whether they’ve served in a branch of the armed forces or know someone who has. Woodbury’s Robyn and Mike Yurek are connected to the military deeply: three of their four children have recently joined. We talked with the Yureks to find out what their service means to them and to the fabric of their family.

Big Sister, Big Dreams

Woodbury residents Robyn and Mike Yurek have four children: Haley, 22; twins Paige and Peyton, 18; and Faith, 16. All three who are of age—Haley, Paige and Peyton—are currently serving in the military, but each is “doing something completely different,” says mom Robyn.

Haley is active duty in the Air Force, stationed in Omaha. Twins Paige and Peyton are both in the Army, but have taken two totally different paths.

During high school, Haley thought she would go to Winona University for nursing, but made the fairly quick decision to join the Air Force instead. Because active duty is a full-time commitment, “school had to take a backburner,” her mom says.

After finishing her military training, Haley now works in an IT position for the Air Force, working with pilots on aircrafts and stealth bombers.

Robyn describes Haley’s field as “96 to 97 percent male,” but says that her military training has taught her how to respect herself and others, and the same goes for all soldiers. In Nebraska, Haley has a close group of friends, in addition to colleagues spread out around the world.

Twins Take Off

This past spring, twins Paige and Peyton graduated from high school (Paige from East Ridge, and Peyton from Cretin Durham Hall) and followed in their older sister’s footsteps. But they didn’t let Haley’s decision to join the military influence them unduly, Peyton says. “My older sister didn’t influence my decision on whether to join or not,” he says.  “I would say my high school experience with [the] military swayed my decision the most.”

Peyton graduated from Cretin Durham Hall after participating in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) all four years, ranking lieutenant Colonel, commander of first battalion his senior year. “My mentor is Lieutenant Colonel Fischer, who is the leader of the Cretin Derham Hall Raider Brigade. He inspired me to be a soldier and was key in my personal development for the four biggest years of my life.”

And when it comes to the future, Peyton is very excited. “[The military] can seem very intimidating at first, and senior year can be such a confusing and overwhelming time,” he says, but he had help from the Army Woodbury Recruiting Center to help make things a little less hectic. Peyton says the members of the team there “had an answer to all my questions and made me feel like a soldier since I first stepped inside the building.”

Peyton was awarded a National Army ROTC scholarship this past summer and is attending St. John’s University until he finishes the school’s high rank military program. Once his training is complete and he has received his degree, he will have two years of drill left to do. After everything is finished, Peyton is currently hoping to be a drone pilot.

While the whole process of joining the military might seem overwhelming or intimidating, mom Robyn Yurek is confident in what Peyton can do. “The military will no doubt commission him five minutes after he graduates,” she says.

Peyton’s twin Paige graduated this spring from East Ridge High School. She’s currently at an Army Reserve base in Oklahoma City, having left in early July. Robyn says leaving was “difficult on us and her.”

Over the summer, she was allowed to call her family once a week for one minute. During the first call, Robyn says, was pretty emotional, as Paige was finding it difficult to adjust. The family receives letters from Paige, but they don’t include a return address, so they aren’t able to write back (for now). Once they have Paige’s address, Robyn says, the family has plans to send her care packages and letters.

When Paige graduates next month, in Virginia, the whole family will be able to go to see her for 72 hours. The Yureks will fly out to Virginia for the ceremony. From there, Paige will go home for Christmas and then be off to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for her freshman year of college.

For Paige, the military is a six-year commitment. She will have drill one weekend a month at Fort Snelling in St. Paul, with hopes of entering inventory management in the military, according to Robyn.

Family Heritage

It probably won’t surprise you to know that the Yurek children aren’t the firsts in their family to serve in the military. Their dad, Mike, was a military policeman in California for three years before starting college. Robyn’s father served in the Korean War, and Mike’s father was in the military, too.

With that family tree, the youngest Yurek, 16-year-old Faith, says she feels a little bit of pressure to follow in her sibling’s footsteps. “I’m considering joining,” she says, but she’s also interested in becoming a dentist and studying at the University of Minnesota. Whatever path she takes, Faith knows her parents will be supportive of her because of the support her other siblings have received.

“My sister Haley going into the military was super hard,” Faith adds. “I didn’t get to see her, and it was hard not having her around for Christmas or Thanksgiving…But it was amazing when she finally graduated and I saw her accomplishments.”

At the end of the day, Robyn and Mike are happy for—and proud of—all of their children. Robyn jokes that her kids, like most teenagers, barely used to know how to cook or clean up after themselves, but their training “makes them grow up.” This Woodbury family certainly has a lot to be proud of.


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