Who is Burke and why do you care?
Being a tomboy through the back half of the nineties and front half of the 00's didn't provide a great number of female role models to look towards and strive to become. In fact, the going joke was that I had plenty of female role models showing me exactly what not to do. The media, games, TV shows, and movies of the time were not short on that. What I did have were Mulan, Princess Leia, and Capt. Sam Carter. Though, even above them, there was one woman that stood out among all. If I desperately wanted to be like anyone, it was Jennifer Burke.
Jennifer Burke is an obscure name, and I’d forgive anyone for not immediately knowing who I was talking about from name alone. She was a main team member in the 2004 game Ghost Recon 2, and its expansion, Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike.
Unlike many female characters in shooters of the time, Burke was characterised with a lot of personality usually reserved for male characters of that time. She was a breath of fresh air and a young me immediately started to vibe with her cockiness and sarcasm. She was a rifleman who seemed to love the up-in-your-face combat and being loud about it, rather than being shoved into the typical “female sniper” trope her fellow female teammate, Diaz, unfortunately filled. She was also characterised as a blue-collar kid who wasn’t academically ‘smart.' Jenny was a high school dropout from a blue-collar family in Indiana. But she was still out there kicking ass among the Ghost Recon universe’s “best of the best." You could see the steely determination in her eyes, you could hear the tenacity in her voice, she was expertly, yet subtly, characterised as the woman who had to fight tooth and nail to be where she was, but loved every second in the ring.
As a kid who grew up in a working-class family somewhere far below the poverty line, it gave me hope. It was a hope that sung far louder than my mother’s lamentations that we were always going to be poor and unwanted. Maybe I, too, could fight to stand among my country’s best and brightest, to make something of myself.
So, after all that, you can imagine how angry I was when she was ‘killed’ offscreen in the next Ghost Recon game. It was personal, and I have been searching for years for any evidence that the death didn’t happen.
Along that journey I have also endeavoured to characterise her more, working with material that I stumbled upon along the way. Here we will expand her backstory and biography with clues we find and then extrapolate on to help make her into a more substantial character.
The Given Backstory
Her original Bio is relatively short, but gives us a little bit to work with:
Jennifer Burke was born on June 28, 1978. She comes from a blue collar family in Indiana, earning her GED (General Educational Development) diploma before joining the United States Army. Slightly rebellious, she is an adrenaline junkie and enjoys extreme sports in her spare time. She is outspoken and not afraid to speak her mind.
Okay, first and foremost, she’s a Hoosier - Original dev interviews saw them make a slip up here, they said she was from "Boston" - probably referring to Boston Massachusetts. However, there is a teeny tiny little town in eastern Indiana called Boston. Stereotypically, there are more corn fields than people. So, for the sake of continuity, let's put her there.
It also says she enjoys extreme sports in her spare time. After looking around Boston, Indiana, I can see that there is a spot for white water rafting very close by, and also a park in Richmond which allegedly has the best mountain biking trails in the state. So, she probably enjoyed mountain biking and white water rafting on the regular.
Her personality type is ESTP 8w7 – I personally don’t like MBTI or enneagram but it can help “flesh out” characterisations.
Special Ops Timeline
The next thing to cover is her MOS, both before she joined the Ghosts and when she was in. For reference, I'm going to use the 18X MOS codes for SOF. So, Weapons, Comms, Medical, and Engineer. She likely wouldn’t have received her 18X MOS until after joining the Ghosts as we envision a direct tryout, rather than the typical Q-course path.
First and foremost - her original bio states she's a rifleman, however, this may not necessarily be indicative of her true MOS as they're a bit skewwhiff in GR2. While weapons sergeant could easily be appropriate, as a woman she would not have been in a combat MOS before the Ghosts and likely had a specific skill outside of combat prowess which would market as useful. This would have steered her to another specialism.
She could have been a medical sergeant, however there is neither a gameplay, or bio indication towards this. She seems a little more eager to make stuff go boom than patch a wound. Probably a gameplay limitation more than anything, but still worth noting. Again, in terms of comms, while she is one of the few characters to have a PRC152 modelled onto her character, there's no indication she is specifically comms oriented.
When looking at engineering, however, in the PS2 version she is heavily involved in missions which involve nuclear weapons or explosives, specifically looking at the Dam and the Final mission. In the Xbox version this appears to be slightly less so, however she is still involved quite a bit in scenarios where explosives knowledge is useful. She is also quite heavily involved in missions involving vehicles (either assisting against an enemy ambush on a convoy, or ambushing an enemy column). Fuel depots, strategic demolitions, and so on. She is also directly involved in the defence of the medical camp in the Xbox version of GR2, including developing effective fortifications. An engineering sergeant's remit. This gives a strong "engineering sergeant" steer.
So, we'll establish her as an 18C - let's look at how she got there.
She probably had a bit more of a "hands dirty" MOS when she joined, given her background. Something more electrical/mechanical than Intelligence would be my read on it. She probably was not military police given her rather rebellious nature either. Her previous MOS would had to have been something that would be useful to SOF in this role, something that would have been noticed by the Ghosts as a potential candidate to join. If we discount the hands-off Intel roles, it leaves just a few jobs which may be directly applicable in a special operations/direct action context.
For brevity - the most obvious previous MOS here, given her 18C designation and her gameplay presence, is EOD Tech. She would have had to have gotten a top-secret clearance and could potentially have specialised in CBRN ordnance, and could have been noticed by working with NEST & SOF on exercises. She could even have assisted them ad-hoc on a DA mission and made a good impression.
When did she join?
One of her original bios in the Xbox version makes note that she has been with the Ghosts for "a number of years." This "number" could be anywhere from 3 to her entire life. As a reference point, Diaz's bio states she has been in the Ghosts since 2005, and none of the other Ghosts are referred to as having been there for "a number of years" - so this is probably indicative that she's been there for a pretty long time by the time GR2's events rolled around. That bio would also had to have been accurate for both the PS2 (2007) and Xbox (2012) versions. So, the chances are, she joined before Diaz did.
The Ghosts operated similar to Delta, and didn't have to conform to any global USSOCOM standard since their inception in 1994, meaning she could have been there since the very start, but that’s doubtful given her age.
It's hard to place a number here. However, while it’s a bit of a stretch, I know from my collection of Paraclete body armour, that the style of RAV she is wearing was manufactured between 2003 and 2005. This makes sense as the game was released in 2004/2005. If I remember rightly, that specific run of Paraclete RAV (woodland with weird colouring) was only manufactured in 2003. Chances are, if she joined later, she would not have received that RAV as Paraclete did not have a mass production line in 2003 and these specific RAV colours were made to order.
We could also aggregate this loosely based on the age gap between her and Diaz. Diaz being 3 years younger than Burke, which would give a join date of 2002, but let's put a pin in 2003 as her join date as this is the later date of the two.
2003 would have made her possibly one of the first women in the Ghosts - Grey joined in 2004, and all other women were 2005 or later. This would have likely she probably started out as very much a "kid-sister" and almost surely had to fight hard to gain respect; eventually maturing into more of the "big sister" by the events of GR2 and a mentor to the other, newer female Ghosts.
Putting the narrative together
Burke would’ve joined the Army in 1995/96 as an EOD Tech, after having possibly worked with the Ghosts and NEST on exercises, she would’ve been invited to selection and training for the unit.
She would have been successfully selected and trained by around 2003, and likely hung back on support duties until attending SFAS and training in 2006, becoming an 18C – Special Forces Engineer – in 2007. She needed to be a stand-out candidate to join the Ghosts’ new A-team under Mitchell, which we will assume she was, and then deployed to Korea
After her Kazakhstan deployment in 2012, she opted to go “green to gold” and trained as an 18A, which would’ve given her the rank of Captain and a team by late 2013, in time for GRAW.
Burke is alive, change my mind
Her death in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter is up for some very aggressive debate, from me at least. In the game, she is tasked with securing Mexico International Airport and destroying enemy AA emplacements as part of operation Strongpoint, and after that the whole story gets quite messy, honestly.
We know that she was put in charge of a unit called Quarterback and that she was tasked with protecting the president and she doesn’t answer her radio following an ambush. She’s presumed dead from this point as the president has been captured by the enemy.
But, there are a couple of caveats to this that may just be plot holes or oversights in writing but leave a pretty big opening for her to have survived, the first being...
It’s never actually confirmed
It’s simple really, Ubisoft never confirmed it, they have been decidedly mum on the whole thing.
The last thing you hear of her is General Martin requesting a SITREP in which she doesn't respond, however;
In the mission, you begin play immediately after rescuing the president. You then go after Guardrail. In the beginning of that mission, you learn that Guardrail IX has jamming capabilities, so there is a strong possibility (and it would make sense for an ambush where you want to capture a VIP) that comms were simply jammed.
To support the above claim, nobody had any idea of her current location, despite her having GPS systems built into her kit. If she were dead and not jammed, she would still show up on the map.
The ambush sounded pretty chaotic, at least one explosion is noted. There is a strong possibility that many people were incapacitated but not killed.
The president talks about the ambush but doesn't confirm she died, he likely doesn't even know himself, supporting the chaotic nature of the situation.
Salvatore was ambushed by a similar rebel group, while injured and incapacitated, he did survive, so it is within the realm of possibility.
You never go over to the initial ambush site so you never get a visual.
We are also talking about a person who has:
Helped push back an entire battalion of North Koreans, who had tanks, arty, you name it and walked it off like it was no big deal.
Helped stop a nuclear apocalypse, while once again holding off an entire company's worth of some of North Korea's finest
Defended an entire town with Salvatore, some Kazakhs and some duct tape.
Has rescued VIPs from a significant ambush before
The radio silence is provocative writing, but certainly no obituary.
Modern Heroes: The loose continuity issue.
In Ghost Recon 2's Xbox release, the cutscenes that drive the story are framed as interviews for a, frankly very cheesy, documentary called “Modern Heroes.” GR2's events themselves happen in 2011 (Xbox) and 2007(PS2/Gamecube). Declassification would likely not have happened until much later, yet Ghost Recon 2’s cutscenes speak openly about declassified documents.
If you look at the amount of all out hell that happened around Zero-Dark-Thirty's filming, there is no way the filming of a tell-all documentary about a highly classified set of missions in which this small platoon of soldiers saved the world from nuclear apocalypse would have happened within 2 years.
The absolute minimum wait time as far as I'm aware for declassification of such AAR's is 5 years
Meaning the earliest the documents would have been released and ergo, the interviews would have been staged, is 2016
Add to this that no one even mentions the TV show in GRAW or GRAW 2, despite Mitchell having an in-game big ol' fanboi (which is cringy af but whatever). You'd assume if Mitchell had a massive fanboy he would've at least watched the show and talked about it - it's never mentioned.
Modern Heroes: The less loose continuity issue
OG Ghost, Will Jacobs, joined the army in 1996.
Will Jacobs is the presenter of the Modern Heroes documentary, and it notes that he's retired.
In order to retire (considering there's no reason to presume medical retirement) he must have served 20 years.
Meaning the earliest the TV show could be filmed is 2016
Modern Heroes: The Irrefutable continuity issue
In the beginning scene of Ghost Recon: Wildlands, Karen Bowman openly speaks about how it must be difficult to be a member of a unit that doesn’t officially exist
Ghost Recon Wildlands was set in 2019
If the Ghosts still didn’t officially exist in 2019 they would definitely not be filming a tell-all TV show about their exploits less than ten years prior for the whole world to see.
It likely would not have been pre-filmed either, due to the possibility of it being leaked
The whole GR2 team, including Burke, would’ve had to have been alive past 2019 in order to interview for the show
So that’s the evidence that, in my opinion, proves that Jennifer Burke has to have survived the events of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter and must’ve done so in a manner that was still respectable enough to warrant her being called a ‘Modern Hero’ later in life. Recently I saw that Ubisoft brought Diaz in her Ghost Recon 2 getup back for Breakpoint’s “Operation Motherland” DLC. Ubisoft, I see your remaster and I raise my own;
There’s an element of hope in me that Ubisoft will see this whole thing and decide to do something. I know I wasn’t the only Ghost Recon fan who practically idolized her, in fact for the most part she seems like a very popular character in the game series. Even just a line of dialogue or an Easter egg that confirms it would be enough to put my little heart at ease. But either way, whatever Ubisoft does, it doesn’t make the original rendition of her character any less of a role model to me.
-Zee Zee grew up ripping the heads off of barbie dolls, learning carpentry from her neighbour, and pulling apart computers with her dad every weekend to see how they worked. Not a lot has changed since and she will still do anything she can to get out of wearing a dress. In the last 10 years, she has gone from having the foolhardy goal of being the first woman in the infantry, to working as a 3D artist in the games industry, to working her way into cyber security, specialising in incident response and threat intelligence. Her youth passions never grew old and at 26, Zee embraces her misfit nature with a cheeky grin. She greatly appreciates the media’s uniquely written stories and strong characters for helping her navigate a difficult childhood, and giving her the determination to reach for her goals, even if they seemed too far.