NCO embraces heritage, new country
August 8, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- It was the promise of the American Dream that brought Camuy Heremuru to Florida two decades ago. At the time, his ambition was to receive a doctorate and return home to his native Jamaica to teach. It was no small goal.
Unfamiliar with the culture, he also needed to earn enough money to pay for his education. Heremuru took a path that made both barriers a little less imposing -- a career in the U.S. Army.
"I continued with college in the Army non-stop," said Heremuru, now a master sergeant stationed at Fort Jackson. "It took me 18 years to get to the doctoral level."
Heremuru is a liaison noncommissioned officer, a human resources manager involved in the management of training standards for the Army and Reserve Component Soldiers.
"We are the conduit for Army Reserve and National Guard members," he said. "We communicate between the state and the U.S. Army Reserve units all over the country when their service members are having problems."
His supervisory role is far removed from the student who used to have to explain to his professors his occasionally awkward understanding of the language. He was not a stranger to English, but the American version of the language sometimes differed from what he knew.
"At first it was tough," he said. "I can't lie. Although Jamaica now speaks English, it's based on the Queen's English. When we write, certain words are different. In America, you spell, 'color,' c-o-l-o-r. We spell, 'color,' c-o-l-o-u-r. In terms of language, when you're doing a composition for college, you have to explain this to the teacher. Eventually it goes away, because you begin to get the American way. But, at first, it was tough."
His career and education have taken him around the world. Calling himself, "a floater," his position in the Army has him constantly on the move. A deployment to Kuwait temporarily interrupted his bid for citizenship, a process he otherwise said was "a piece of cake."
His decision to seek U.S. citizenship was not made lightly, though.
"I'm really grounded, where Jamaica is concerned," he said. "The common term that's used is, 'sell out,' if you give up your citizenship. At the end of the day, I looked at where my bread and butter were coming from. Long term, I'd like to go back to Jamaica. But, right now, this is where my heart is."
Unsurprisingly, his love for both education and his native country were reflected in his doctoral thesis, published under the title, "Building Jamaica through Education: the Way Forward."
"Forty years ago, Jamaica was about 99 percent, in terms of literacy," he said. "In the past 20 years, it went down, and is now 86 percent. I wanted to compare other colonial countries, Barbados and Singapore, to see why their education is at 99 percent, and why Jamaica's is at 86 percent. What was Jamaica doing wrong? I was able to come up with the answer by the end. But the reason for doing this is because I love education."
With his educational goals already met, Heremuru said his career goals are also nearing completion.
"I wanted to serve in the American military for 20 years, and I wanted to achieve my doctorate while in the Army," he said.
His plans call for three more years of Army service, retiring from the Army after his assignment at Fort Jackson is complete.
"Once I'm done, I can go home and impart what I've learned," he said.
In the past, his studies kept him from visiting Jamaica, but completing his education has freed much more time for travel.
"When I was doing studies, I would go home every three years. Now that my studies are done, I'm averaging now once or twice per year," he said.
Heremuru said it's likely he'll experience another culture shock when he returns home for good.
"I'm not considered as 'pure' Jamaican anymore, because I've been exposed to another culture," he said. "So, it will take (a few) years, but you'll never fully get back to where you were before. My fingers are crossed, but I'm really hoping to get involved in politics. And I do want to teach at a university in the West Indies."
He said his education and career were courtesy of the Army.
"If it wasn't for the American military, for the Army, this wouldn't have happened," he said. "I've been given an opportunity that many of my countrymen were not."