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Chester County Press

Avon Grove grad ranked top army cadet at command camp

10/03/2017 12:00PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

When she was 15 years old, Morgan Guarneri took her first flight instruction at the New Garden Flying Field, and by the time she landed, it became clear that the direction her life would take was preordained. She was going to fly helicopters for the United States Army, and a little more than five years later, she's almost there.
Guarneri, 21, a 2014 graduate of Avon Grove High School, is currently in her senior year at Clemson University and on a full ROTC scholarship. This summer, she completed the U.S. Army Cadet Command Advanced Camp at Ft. Knox, a 31-day program of intense training and improvement in leader development and prepares cadets for a commission in the U.S. Army.
At the graduation ceremony in July, Guarneri received the AUSA Warrior Ethos Award, presented to the top cadet in each regiment by the Regimental Cadre Board. (Guarneri was ranked as 1st in a class of 672 other cadets.)  She continued her training at the 21-day Cadet Troop Leadership Training at Ft. Hood in August, where she shadowed lieutenants and chief warrant officers in the Combat Engineering and Air Cavalry Brigades.
"You train all three years in college for the experience of attending the 31-day advance camp training," Guarneri said during a recent 36-hour visit back home. "It's a lot of small unit tactics and marches with 40-plus pounds on your back. It asks a lot of you from a leadership perspective, and it teaches you to make quick decisions. It's a way to get people out of their comfort zone and encourage leadership.
Guarneri was not alone. The Clemson ROTC program sent a total of  27 of her fellow cadets to advanced camp and had 10 cadets rank in the top 30 percent and six cadets rank in the top 15 percent. Those percentages are out of about 4,500 cadets nationwide who completed advanced camp this year.
Wherever Jesse Guarneri went, it seemed that his young daughter Morgan went with him, whether it was turkey hunting, trap shooting, and attending air shows at the New Garden Flying Field, or in Atlantic City or Reading. The young girl admired the various aircraft that she stood before and the cockpits she climbed into. She soaked up the stories she heard first-hand from World War II airmen. She quickly absorbed the language of flight and got to know several pilots and airport life.
When she turned 15 years old, she asked her father if she could take flying lessons.
"I knew from a very young age that I wanted to serve in the army, and when my father asked me what I wanted to do, I told him, "I want to fly a Blackhawk helicopter,'" Guarneri said. "He then told me, 'Then let's get flying,' and once I started flying, I was hooked."
When the plane landed after her first lesson, the private pilot she was with looked at Jesse and said, "She's a natural."
She worked at the flying field fueling planes, cleared the snow from the runway, and helped out at the Future Aviators Camp each summer. After receiving her fixed wing/single engine pilot license at the New Garden Air Field, Guarnari graduated to Brandywine Field in West Chester, and received her helicopter license from the Brandywine Airport. During her early training, she also collected over $10,000 in flying scholarships to help pay for lessons.
While at one Future Aviators Camp, she met fellow aviation enthusiast Nick Belfiore who, like Guarneri, graduated from Avon Grove in 2014 and is now a combat medic in the U.S. Army. Belfiore and Guarneri are engaged to be married.
Although the recent institutionalization of women in combat has reignited the debate of their role in the military, research shows that women serving in direct combat alongside men shows no stigma or other prohibitive factors that would degrade the effectiveness or lethality of attack aviation units in combat. With technology making warfare increasingly a remote task, women are demonstrating that they can compete just as effectively as their male counterparts. 
What used to be only imagination has become commonplace. Currently, ten out of every 100 Army helicopter pilots are women, and overall, there is a rising population of women pilots who have served in attack aviation roles, without restriction, since the beginning of major combat operations in the Global War on Terror. Guarneri saw this changing trend for herself; she was one of nine women who received awards at the Ft. Knox ROTC Advanced Camp with an award. The camp only handed out ten of them.
"I think her aspirations are making the statement that women can be just as successful in the military and can do the job as well or in some cases better than men. Although her goal is to fly Black Hawks for the Army, she learned that doing your best at ROTC Advanced Camp this past summer can make you first out of 672 candidates, most of whom are men."
"All of her training has taught Morgan that what you want in life was worth working for, because if it was easy, everyone would do it," Jesse said.
Although she calls herself a "born leader," Guarneri credited her parents and siblings with demonstrating to her what leadership looks like -- a skill set that she brings to her role as an ROTC leader at Clemson.
"I don't stand in front of 150 people and express my leadership," she said. "I like to take a group of five and go behind the scenes and have those five take another five, and from there, we make a difference in our battalion.”
After she graduates from Clemson next year with a 3.6 GPA, Guarneri's goal will not have wavered since she was a kid back at the New Flying Field: to become a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army, flying a $10 million machine.
That's not a statement of equality, but an aspiration.
"I don't believe there will be hurdles for me in being a woman," she said. "I am a very humbly confident person, so there may have been some paths I had to cross that I did not realize were paths, but I crossed the path with my other abilities. In all honesty, maybe someone's going to talk to me in the future and say, 'You can't do that because you're a girl.'
"I'll prove them wrong. Every run I do, every lift I do, every weight I lift, is another step to becoming stronger, mentally and physically, and the stronger I become, the more doors swing open."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].