Soldiers discuss leaving RMI to serve in U.S. military
May 24, 2012
U.S. ARMY KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands - The United States military is made up of an eclectic group of servicemen and women from various backgrounds and ethnicities. They may fight for one country, but not all of them originated from the same one.
Some of those Soldiers grew up right here in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Three of those Marshallese Soldiers recently returned home to Ebeye to mourn the loss of a family member. While they were here, they visited U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll, where USAKA/RTS Commander Col. Joseph Gaines thanked them for their service with a Commander's Coin.
Pfc. Tony DeBrum went to Fr. Hacker High School on Ebeye, but also spent time in Florida and finally Hawaii, where he ended up finishing high school. He joined the U.S. Army Feb. 2, 2010, and has been stationed at Ft. Drum, N.Y., since June 2010.
Although he grew up on a tropical island, transitioning to chilly upstate New York wasn't such a drastic change, he said, although there was a learning curve when it came to snow and ice. He is not a fan of the weather but added, "I love doing my job."
DeBrum just reenlisted in the infantry. He said he hopes to one day get transferred to Hawaii to be closer to family and where he grew up. DeBrum said he is trying to work on his leadership skills in order to make the military a future career for himself.
He said he wants to "become a better leader [and] maybe come back home and help my people out."
He still has strong ties to the Marshall Islands. It was because of the Operation Flintlock battle that took place there in 1944 that he said made him join the military in the first place.
"The Japanese were holding my people here on Kwajalein," DeBrum said. "[The U.S. military] risked their lives for my people. I'm returning the favor. That's all I ever wanted to do. They fought for my great-grandfathers that they didn't even know. So, I'm going to do the same."
DeBrum just returned from a one-year deployment in Afghanistan. It wasn't what he expected, he said, but he found the good with the bad. One thing that helped was seeing a handful of Marshallese Soldiers in the year he was deployed.
"Just to see one of my own somewhere in Afghanistan … just made me feel good," he said. "It made me feel good knowing I'm not the only one serving from a little island."
One Soldier he knew in particular was Spc. Elmita Anjain, who was in the same brigade, but different battalion.
Anjain grew up on Ebeye and then moved to Majuro. She entered the Army Oct. 8, 2005. She is also stationed at Ft. Drum. Anjain joined the military to finish school and support her four children, ages 12, 10, 8 and 3. She has been deployed three times. Her first deployment was to Iraq, only one year after joining.
"When I first got there, it was crazy," she recalled. "We got hit 33 times in one day."
Her second deployment was only six months after giving birth to her youngest son.
During her last deployment, Anjain was a part of the Female Engagement Team. Her uniform was chosen to be housed in the U.S. Army Women's Museum at Ft. Lee, Va. The museum has one of the most comprehensive and expansive collections in the world of primary and secondary documents pertaining to the history of U.S. Army women.
Also during her latest deployment in Afghanistan, she was surprised to see not only DeBrum, but several other Marshallese Soldiers.
"I'm a driver so I go place to place." Seeing fellow Marshallese Soldiers made life down range a little easier, she said. "It helped to talk to somebody who is from the same place." Regardless, nothing was harder to deal with than being away from her family. "Being away from my kids was the most difficult part."
Despite the difficulties, Anjain would recommend other Marshallese to join the military.
"There's a lot of good benefits -- school, medical." Anjain just reenlisted and plans to make the military a career. She hopes to finish school, studying nursing.
Pfc. Gracelynn Livai has lived all over the U.S. and even overseas in her lifetime, but she still has family ties to the Marshall Islands. She entered the U.S. Army Feb. 8, 2011, and is stationed at Ft. Richardson, Alaska.
Livai's views on being deployed down range may differ from some. She was set to deploy last year, but had to go on emergency leave. She considers herself the "unlucky one who had to stay back."
Even though Livai was never deployed, she too has run into fellow Marshallese Soldiers. She has an uncle in the service who is also stationed at Ft. Richardson. She also has a Marshallese "battle buddy" who is down range.
"It makes me happy to speak my own language sometimes," she commented about being around fellow Marshallese Soldiers.
Livai encourages other Marshallese to go into the military. "You know you're doing something good for people. Helping them makes you feel better about yourself," she said.
She joined the military because she wanted to travel and finish college. While her goal is to become a pharmacy technician, she does plan to make a career out of her military service.
Although they are reunited in the Marshall Islands for poignant reasons, they were grateful and proud to be able to meet the USAKA commander and receive a Commander's Coin. This was Livai's first coin, so she was very excited to receive it. Anjain said she felt proud to receive one. The one given to DeBrum marked his fifth so far, but it's one he's always wanted.
"It was truly an honor and pleasure to meet these visiting Soldiers and hear about their great success in the Army," said Gaines. "I am proud to serve in today's Army alongside these young men and women from the RMI. Pfc. DeBrum, Pfc. Livai and Spc. Anjain serve as great examples for the young people in both the U.S. and the RMI of what you can achieve as a member of the U.S. Army. I would be thrilled to see any one of these Soldiers serving as a senior leader here at USAKA someday."