By Capt. Latisha Balance, Leader contributing writerSeptember 1, 2011
FORT JACKSON, S.C., Sept. 1, 2011 -- In 2007, a then 16-year-old Saw Blut was a refugee in Malaysia, having fled his home in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, a country in Southeast Asia.
Today, the Army private will carry his platoon's streamers in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, as he officially graduates Basic Combat Training here, becoming an American Soldier.
As a Christian in the mostly Buddhist country, and as a member of the Karen tribe, one of the country's minority groups, Blut and his family found themselves among the thousands being persecuted. The government, Blut said, sought to overtake his tribe and six others in the country.
The government was also trying to force him to join the military, he said.
"I thank God every day for freedom and the strength he gives me to carry on in order to help my family and others," said the now 20-year-old Blut, who became a U.S. citizen during a family day swearing-in ceremony Wednesday.
After taking refuge in Malaysia, Blut was eventually granted asylum in the United States through the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. In 2008, he settled in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he later enlisted in the Michigan National Guard.
Blut, who left behind his parents and siblings, said his journey was not without fear.
"I was a bit scared of being caught but I was more determined to seek freedom," he said.
For Blut, becoming a Soldier is an outward expression of his gratitude.
"It's my way of giving back to the country that has given so much to me," he said.
His fellow Soldiers and cadre members say his positive and grateful attitude is evident in their interactions.
"He is a genuine and positive individual and will contribute to our Army because of it," said Staff Sgt. Jamar Mabry, one of Blut's drill sergeants. "Because of him, we start every training event with a small prayer. He brings positive energy wherever he goes."
Likewise, Blut has learned from them.
"I have gained so much from this experience; discipline and an appreciation for others, especially my drill sergeants,"he said.
Blut's performance in BCT has resonated with his battle buddies, as well.
"He is one of the hardest workers in our bay and always has something positive to say. I believe that the troubles he has gone through make him who he is today," said Pfc. David Macedo. "Hearing about what Pfc. Blut has gone through makes me feel bad about my complaining. It makes me more appreciative of the life we have here in the (United) States."
The word, "troubles," does little to capture the depths of the hardship and persecution Blut and his family had to endure.
"My family farms. They grow and tend rice fields," Blut said. "Often times they would have to give up their profits and crops to the Burma government or they would burn the villages. I even recall some people being beat and even killed."
Despite his struggles, Blut makes it clear that he does not share his story with others to gain sympathy.
"I want others to know that because of my trust in God for everything, I am able to take part in the training and opportunities the Army has given me. I thank God, my drill sergeants and my battle buddies for what they have instilled in me."
Blut will attend Advanced Individual Training here with the 187th Ordnance Battalion.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Although both Burma and Myanmar are acceptable, the Leader follows Associated Press style guidelines by referring to the Southeast Asian country as Myanmar. Pvt. Saw Blut refers to his native country as Burma.