The first thing that becomes clear upon meeting Gavin, Grace, and Gabriel Zuniga is the bond they have with each other. Being triplets, that connection for the 18-year-olds is not surprising. With their career choices, that bond is even stronger.
All three of the Zunigas will, within the next few years, become members of the United States Army. Gavin’s plans are to enlist upon graduation from Ripley High School, while Grace and Gabriel, will attend the University of Kentucky under the ROTC program.
“I want to work as a big wheel mechanic,” Gavin said.
Having worked for Swann’s Tire Pros & Auto Service in Ripley for the past two summers, he said that he was able “to help out a little.”
His siblings were quick to point out that their brother was being modest.
“He fixes everything around our house,” Gabriel said. “There’s not much he can’t fix. I need him to change the oil and fix a headlight for me when we get home.”
Gavin also spent his junior and senior year in the welding program at the Roane Jackson Technical Center.
“I saw the pipeliners doing all that work,” he said. “I thought that might be a good thing to learn, a skill that might come in handy. I was planning on getting my certificates this year, but the virus came along and those plans didn’t work out. But I may be able to get those this summer.”
After basic training, Gavin will then go to advanced individual training for his particular job, then on to his first posting.
While Gavin is focused on enlisting soon, his brother and sister will be heading off to the University of Kentucky in the fall. The connection to that school is strong.
“It’s where our mom got her degree in nursing through the ROTC program,” Gabriel said. “And our uncle is a patent lawyer for the university.”
Being part of the ROTC program, and with the GI bill through their mother’s service in the army, Grace and Gabriel appreciate the opportunity to go to this university.
“It has so many opportunities only limited by the students themselves,” Gabriel said.
Both Grace and Gabriel plan on joining the Army Corp of Engineers upon graduation.
“I’m majoring in biomedical engineering,” Grace said. “I really want to work in the field of prosthetics. This is normally a five-year degree but with my AP classes and college testing, I can do it in four years.”
Gabriel will major in chemical engineering which as he says “offers a lot of paths to take.” They will each enter the military with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant upon graduation.
The triplets, along with their older brother Johnathan, have in their short lives traveled many paths.
Their mother, Heather Zuniga, said that moving a lot in a military family is inevitable.
“They’ve had to relocate several times including North Carolina and Fort Knox, Kentucky,” she said. “There have been a few bumps in the road with deployments, trainings, multiple moves and some family issues. I think it’s made them become closer and rely on each other.”
With the move to West Virginia in 2016, upon their mother’s retirement after 20 years in the Army, it was another adjustment.
“They went from being on a base with lots of friends nearby to living in a rural area which was quite an adjustment,” she said.
But that adjustment was made with quite a few achievements.
Both Grace and Gabriel are members of the National Honor Society, along with the International Robotics Honor Society.
“Gabriel’s A-team robotics team won the state championship this year, the third year in a row for Ripley High School,” Grace said proudly. “I was on the B-team. We would have gone to the international conference but the pandemic caused it to be cancelled.”
Pride in their achievements is overshadowed by the respect they have for their mother and their older brother.
“Our mom retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the army,” Gabriel said. “She then went into education as a school nurse.”
Their older brother Johnathan is someone they admire as well.
“With our mom having to raise us as a single mom, our brother stepped up to help,” Grace said. “He was just a couple of years older than us, but he watched over us. And now he’s going to be either an elementary or high school teacher once he graduates.”
The changes coming in the near future are a source of excitement for the Zuniga triplets.
“It’s going to be exciting to go off to college and the military,” Grace said. “And there’s something to be said for going to a big school, but Jackson County is still home. It means a lot to go visit our grandparents and there’s a peace about that.”
Their mother says that with all the moves they made, with all the upheavals in their lives, West Virginia has always been a constant for them.
“Having my parents and brother close by has been a blessing,” she said. “I wanted my kids to have a high school experience without having to move. And with all the ups and downs we’ve been through, the two best words to describe my children is strong and resilient.”
That strength and resilience will help Gavin, Grace, and Gabriel achieve their lofty goals to serve their country and carry on the military tradition of their family.