Fort Bragg paratrooper, ex-boxer, earns citizenship after becoming servicemember
June 10, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Irony, our English teachers told us, is often confused with odd coincidence. Just ask Pfc. Wenderson Jangada of the 82nd Airborne Division, who will tell you it is ironic that the benefits of enlisting in the United States Army can be as much, or more significant to immigrants than to citizens. He might also mention that irony is "ironia" in Portuguese and Spanish, ironie in German and French, and Af' Af"AfA'Af'A-A!' in Russian. Jangada, who became a U.S. citizen in Raleigh May 22, has a knack for linguistics. Not only does he speak six languages, but he has also written a historic novel about Attila the Hun. And as for odd coincidence' The well-spoken, 34-year-old Brazilian immigrant of 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team is a former professional boxer. Every enlistee has his story, but the tracks laid down by older enlistees are often the most colorful. Jangada's story is a love story for a woman and a country. "I was in Paris sparring the French heavyweight champion and teaching Soldiers in the French Foreign Legion to box when I met my wife," said Jangada. A likely story. "I met him at a bar," said Susan, Jangada's wife. An American from the small town of Linn Grove, Ind., Susan was a star volleyball player, the second best pro "middle" in all of France. Jangada introduced himself and gave the attractive American his phone number. She stuck it in her pocket, intending to throw it away at first chance. "I didn't want anything to do with someone I met at a bar, and besides, I didn't want to be tied down in France," she said, noting the irony. Back to coincidence. Jangada began his fighting career studying muay thai at Chute Boxe, coincidentally the same Brazilian gym that spawned mixed martial-arts champs Wanderlei and Anderson Silva. People said he had "heavy hands." "Anyone you touch, you put to sleep," a friend said of Jangada's quick knockouts. He suggested the 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound Brazilian try boxing. Jangada's first boxing match ended in another knockout. "I broke the guy's nose and knocked him down. There was blood everywhere. But I had no technique," he said. He became a student of the sport. He trained hard, went pro and became the heavyweight Transcontinental Champion for 2001 and 2002. He aspired to make Brazil's Olympic team, but the soccer-loving country had no money for boxers. A friend suggested he move to Europe. "There are too many obstacles for foreigners to fight in the U.S.," Jangada said. "Europe is easier, and the money's the same." Coincidentally, a certain pro volleyball player from Indiana was in Paris the same time he was. Ironically, the phone number that she intended to throw away - the one a friend encouraged her to dial, the number she texted two weeks later - would connect her to her future husband and father of her children. Now pregnant with the couple's second child, Susan recounted their journey to her husband's enlistment in the Army and eventual U.S. citizenship as one that only true love could endure. A doctor advised Jangada to quit boxing before recurring health issues became serious. Susan, who was facing similar issues on the court, suggested that starting a Family would be easier in the United States. "She took me to a Starbucks and fed me cheesecake and hot chocolate. I could not believe how good it was and this came from America," Jangada said, laughing. "I wanted to go to this country." Each went home. Jangada to Brazil for a visa, Susan to Indiana, where she worked three jobs to save money to start a Family. "It took seven months for him to get the visa interview," she said. Once Jangada's application was approved, he was in Indiana within 24 hours. The couple married two weeks later on Nov. 27, 2005. Jangada submitted paperwork for a green card so that he could find work. Susan took a job in Shreveport, La., coaching college volleyball, but the $15,000 salary wasn't enough. They moved in with Susan's parents and Susan taught high school as a substitute teacher. When she landed a coaching job at Houston Baptist University, a Division One school with a more generous salary, the couple moved again. "But I was pregnant, and my husband wanted to take care of me and the baby," said Susan. A short while later, Jangada's green card was approved. "I went to the Marine recruiter, but since I did not speak any English, they would not take me. They suggested I try the Army," said Jangada. He guessed his way through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and passed. "He asked me what job he should choose in the Army, and I suggested cook, plumber or electrician," said Susan. "Anything but infantry." Jangada chose infantry. "I am a fighter," he said. "I want to be in the lead. It's my nature." He learned his sixth language-English-at basic training, from fellow recruits. He also won Soldier of the Cycle, said Jangada. Airborne school was easy for the ex-athlete, though landings for the big man were always hard, he said. Assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 82nd's 1st Bn., 504 th PIR, Jangada was hand-picked by Sgt. Maj. Frank Hacker to serve on the team that provides security for the battalion's senior leaders. "I was impressed with his boxing background and the way he presented himself," said Hacker, who, with his wife, attended Jangada's citizenship ceremony. "The man knows six languages, and now he is teaching himself Arabic - not just to speak it, but to read and write it." "It is like in boxing," said Jangada. "When I am deployed, my opponent will speak Arabic. I want to know him." Set to deploy to Iraq in August with 1st Brigade, Jangada believes that, in his absence, his pregnant wife and 16-month-old daughter will be well cared for by the Army Family. With readily-available health care, his steady Army income and other resources available to his Family, he will be able to stay focused on his job, he said. When he returns from Iraq, he may use his GI Bill to go to college, Jangada said. "I come into the Army, and they don't care that I am not a citizen. They accept me anyway," he said. Even better, the Army made it easy for him to become a citizen, he said. "I am so grateful for all that I received that I will put my life on the line for this country," said Jangada. Borrowing a favorite American expression that is neither ironic nor coincidental, he said, "It is what it is." "Sometimes I can't believe that he used to be a professional boxer," said Susan. "But then we run into some of his old acquaintances and they holler, 'Jangada, where have you been'' And they cannot believe he is in the Army." Life is full of the unexpected, she said.