Everyone in the military has a back story, but few are as compelling as that of retired Army Capt. Jean Jeudy. He was hunted by paramilitary groups in his native Haiti, brought to the U.S. for protection, went through boot camp without knowing English and started his military career in a completely opposite climate from that of his home country.
Video: Capt. Jeudy recalls his career, life before
That’s probably a little rougher than your experience, right?
Jeudy recently retired after 22 years of service. His journey has been long, but rewarding, and it all started in 1994 when the U.S. government granted him asylum.
He went into hiding because his life was threatened.
In 1991, the Haitian army overthrew the elected government, destabilizing the country. By 1994, the atmosphere was so chaotic and dangerous that there was virtually no political or societal stability. During those tumultuous times, Jeudy dedicated himself to radio broadcasting, relaying news and events despite the perils that faced him.
“People were looking for me personally to kill me,” he said. “And if they could find my family, they would kill them as well.”
He, his wife and his four adopted kids were forced to go into hiding. Eventually, they made a life-changing decision to seek asylum in the United States.
There was definitely culture shock.
“It’s a different life. I came the next day, and I’m like, ‘Man, what am I doing here?’” Jeudy said of the extreme change. “I had no purpose, in a way, in a country where I’m going to start over.”
But the monumental change from the perilous Haitian landscape to the secure and stable U.S. defined and strengthened him, despite the challenges. He wanted to give back to the U.S. for saving his life, so he joined the Army in 1996.
“Once I joined the Army, I saw the purpose. I saw myself helping people, continuing what I was doing in Haiti as a broadcast journalist,” Jeudy said.
He didn’t speak English when he joined the Army.
Jeudy is a native French speaker, but somehow he passed his initial test and then spent eight weeks in basic training without anyone noticing he didn’t know English.
“Anything that I saw the soldiers doing, I just followed and did the same thing,” he said. But he was eventually found out.
“At the end of an exercise, that’s when I was supposed to self-evaluate … and you’re supposed to be able to respond,” he recalled. “At that point, the drill sergeant was talking to me and realized, ‘That Jeudy, he can’t speak English. He can’t respond.’”
That was a huge setback.
“The drill sergeant talked to me and explained to me, ‘Hey, it’s not over. You have to be determined to do this,’” Jeudy said. “With that determination, I stopped basic training at that point, and I was sent to Lackland Air Force Base, where I started English school.”
His first duty station: Alaska.
Once Jeudy learned English and made it through basic, his first duty station was also quite the shock – Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
“Seventy-five degrees Fahrenheit in Haiti is considered cold,” Jeudy said. “So, the Army sent me to Fort Wainwright, where the weather can go down to minus 50.”
Between the soldiers and the Alaskan natives, the culture was also very different. It was one of love and acceptance, and that was made clear in Jeudy’s professional life.
“That’s when I started knowing about teamwork,” he said. “I started knowing about love, about dedication and selfless service there in my first unit in Alaska. I saw people really genuinely taking care of you.”
He’s done a lot of good during his 22 years.
Jeudy eventually became an officer and earned a lot of awards and accolades, including Bronze Star medals he earned on his deployments to the Middle East.
“I remember how our mission in Iraq and Afghanistan is a noble mission to serve the people there, but also to serve the people of the United States against the threat that we are facing against the terrorists,” he said.
Jeudy also selflessly dedicated his energy and focus toward U.S. communities, earning him a Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.
“It’s my most prestigious medal,” Jeudy said. “When I look at it, I see what the U.S. Army is all about – serving other people, serving other nations and serving the United States of America.”
He’s retiring into a different service.
In 2014, Jeudy received his ordination as a pastor. He’s now able to help people at U.S. shelters, but he’s also excited to connect his faith to his Haitian roots.
“I plan on going to Haiti to do ministry work,” Jeudy said. “My church is embracing an idea where we will put a branch of the church in every department of Haiti.”
He is eternally grateful to the U.S. and his fellow soldiers.
Jeudy said his service was filled with “joy and determination,” as well as phenomenal people.
“Countless people who, even when a situation is bad, you see those people … they’re not there just to be there. They’re your backup,” Jeudy said.
He remembered when his noncommissioned officers at Fort Wainwright warmed his fingers for him.
“My fingers were so cold in the wintertime, those NCOs put my skin against their skin to keep me warm,” Jeudy said. “This is something I take with heart. These people – the soldiers of the U.S. … If it wasn’t for those people, I wouldn’t be here today.”
This blog is an abridged version of a story that was originally published by Army Pvt. Matthew Marcellus on DVIDShub.net.
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