Jenna Mack, 17, of Murrieta, will speak as a guest educator on a Peace Boat from Japan to Vietnam about the lingering effects of Agent Orange.
By Maggie Avants
A 17-year-old Murrieta girl is all too familiar with the adverse effects of Agent Orange, a chemical sprayed during the Vietnam War.
Jenna Mack, a 2012 graduate of Murrieta Valley High School, is the granddaughter of a Vietnam veteran who was exposed to Agent Orange. Her mother is a second-generation sufferer of the ill effects.
Jenna has used Agent Orange as a platform in numerous pageants. She was named Miss Teen Murrieta 2011-2012 and is currently the Royal International Miss Teen California as well as National Miss Heart of the USA Supreme Beauty Queen.
“Jenna uses her titles and pageants as her voice for her platform which is ‘Agent Orange; Fighting for Second Generation Victims’ Rights,’” said her mother, Tanya Mack.
Jenna has taken her message beyond pageants, speaking at engagements at Camp Pendleton and at University of California, Berkeley.
Now Jenna has been invited to serve as a guest educator Aug. 24-30 aboard the NGO Peace Boat as it sails from Japan to Vietnam. Once in Vietnam she will meet with the Vietnamese Prime Minister at the U.S. Embassy and will some humanitarian work at a hospital in Ho Chi Minh City.
Jenna’s drive to create awareness comes from watching her mother suffer what doctors have said is a potent genetic mutation caused by Agent Orange.
Jenna’s grandfather, James Sciaccotti, 65, served in the Air Force. He fought in the Vietnam War from 1968-1970.
Part of the United States’ strategy in Vietnam was to conduct an herbicide program to remove foliage providing cover for the enemy, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Agent Orange was the most widely used of the herbicide combinations sprayed.
“That is where he was exposed to Agent Orange and sprayed heavily daily,” Tanya said.
Tanya, 38, said she was born with hip dysplasia. She’s had nearly 30 surgeries to correct it, in addition to suffering from lupus. But her health battles worsened when she was diagnosed with cancer five years ago, she told Patch.
“It has affected my life quite a bit,” Tanya said. “It has been a huge roller coaster. As the oldest child, Jenna has seen it all.”
Jenna, the oldest of three children, was in middle school when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She changed her mother’s dressings three times and day and at 16, began administering her shots.
At 17, Jenna is a certified emergency medical responder, a certified nursing assistant and is enrolled in a registered nursing program.
“It seems she is well beyond her years, unfortunately, but this trip is very well-deserved and it is going to be an eye-opener for her.
“People to this day are being born with birth defects over there,” she said.
Jenna is attending the trip with Heather Bowser, a second-generation sufferer and an Agent Orange awareness activist.
Bowser is director of the nonprofit, Children of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance, which Tanya has taken an active role in.
“What our goal is and what we are trying to get accomplished is help for second generation victims.”
While numerous studies have been conducted on the lingering effects of Agent Orange—both in veterans and their children—currently the only Agent Orange birth defect recognized is spina bifida, according to Publichealth.va.gov.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article.
Tanya said the fight is for all second generation victims to be recognized and receive medical benefits.
“It is going to be a long, long road and I may never see it so that is where Jenna comes in.”