CAMP MURRAY, Wash. - When you ask Sgt. Osse Jeanpierre, JP for short, about immigrating to the United States, he smiles and talks so vividly about how it helped his family. His smile widens when he explains his time in the Washington National Guard helped him achieve full U.S. citizenship.
“We came from Haiti, which by the time we left, our country had fallen into a bad situation,” said Jeanpierre. “I remember leaving in the middle of the night, getting on the biggest airplane I had ever flown on and landing in New York City.”
Jeanpierre, a carpentry and masonry specialist with the 176th Engineer Company out of Snohomish, was a 9-year-old when his family immigrated from the small island nation just east of Cuba. He had a good life in Haiti, but his parents had wanted better for their children.
“We never went without, but it wasn’t the best situation,” said Jeanpierre. “I still remember the images, the sounds and the smell.”
Since being discovered by Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, Haiti has experienced occupation, war, turmoil, countless natural disasters and hardships. There is a vast financial disparity between the well-off and the extremely poor.
His family decided to immigrate to the United States in 1996 following the destruction of Hurricane Gordon, which caused massive floods and mudslides and killed more than 1,100 Haitians. That and political instability solidified their decision that it was time to go.
“My aunt came to the States first and got everything set up,” said Jeanpierre. “I remember getting to New York and it was so cold. I was used to the islands, not the cold New York weather.”
It was this journey and a desire to serve that led Jeanpierre to join the Army National Guard at age 23 in 2010.
“I knew nothing about the Army. I just watched the commercials and thought that would be something fun to do,” said Jeanpierre.
While at basic training, Jeanpierre was asked about his citizenship status and if he wanted to become an official citizen.
“Being so young, I just didn’t know what they meant, so I said no,” said Jeanpierre. “Looking back now, I would tell anyone that is interested in becoming a citizen, do it at basic training. They have all the offices right there to make it happen.”
Through the next seven years, Jeanpierre would deploy to Iraq, Jordan, and Germany, spend time in Thailand, and go on countless humanitarian missions and state activations. But when he needed a security clearance, he was told he had to become a citizen.
“Not knowing what the process was like, I didn’t know where to start,” said Jeanpierre.
His first call was to Military One Source.
“Military One Source had all the counselors and guidance to go through the process. I ultimately hired a lawyer to help, but they were such a great resource,” said Jeanpierre. “Also the military liaison at USCIS, [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services] helped as well, walking you through the process.”
The process took nearly four years, which was frustrating at times. Now, he is happy to share his story with others because of everything he learned.
“You learn a lot and being in the military is a benefit,” he said. “You find out that almost all the fees are waived, which saves you a lot of money. But the best thing I can tell anyone is to just get it done early and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance.”