A move to the United States and a conversation with a college roommate put one immigrant on the path to military service and an assignment at one of the U.S. Army’s four major commands.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Walner Nelson, who currently serves at Army Materiel Command, immigrated to the U.S. with his family from Haiti in 1995. His father would tell him and his siblings, “This is the land of opportunity – you can do anything you want.”
In Haiti, children are encouraged to pursue careers as doctors or engineers because they are the most respected professions, but Nelson’s dream was to hold an office job in human resources. He did not consider that the U.S. Army would make that dream a reality until his college roommate and a local Army recruiter encouraged him to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.
“To join the Haitian Army, you have to have connections, such as a relative already serving,” said Nelson. “With the U.S. Army, you can take the ASVAB starting in the 11th grade and easily pursue your career in the military.”
Taking his father’s words to heart, Nelson joined the Army in May 1999, and in January 2000, he applied for his U.S. citizenship.
At the time, the Army didn’t help with the citizenship process, but Nelson was driven to earn his in order to stay in the Army. After what he describes as a long and grueling process, Nelson was notified of his citizenship in September 2001—and just a week after the 9/11 attacks, he swore in as citizen and was headed to his first duty station at Fort Riley, Kansas shortly after.
Twenty-one years later, Nelson has risen through the ranks to achieve the esteemed position of Chief Warrant Officer 4.
“There are so few four-star generals in the Army. I never imagined I would be working for one,” he said.
Throughout his career, Nelson said the Army has given him the opportunity to travel around the world and learn about many different cultures.
“I’ve been deployed to Iraq twice, Korea three times and Germany,” he said. “It was wonderful spending time in all those different countries because you meet people from all walks of life.”
The Army relies on Soldiers of diverse backgrounds and as a foreign national, Nelson said he offers a unique perspective.
“As someone from a foreign country, I am more aware of my circumstances and approach every situation with an open mind while treating everyone with dignity and respect,” he said.
Through the Army, Nelson was the first in his family to not only earn a degree, but three. He holds an associate’s degree in general studies, a bachelor’s degree in public administration, a master’s degree of business administration with a concentration in human resources, and a graduate certificate in project management.
Nelson was pursuing his doctorate degree until he learned of his daughter’s interest in becoming a medical doctor.
“I transferred 70% of my GI Bill to her and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” said Nelson, who is grateful for the benefits available to him and his family through his Army service.
Nelson joined the Army because he saw an opportunity to pursue the American dream. He continues to serve because of the people who have faith in him to carry out the mission.
“I see people before I see the rank,” he said. “Take care of people and they will take care of you.”