News: Returning to her homeland
Story by Staff Sgt. Jacob McDonald
FORT BRAGG, NC - Immediately following the devastating earthquake that rocked Haiti in January a call went out across Fort Bragg, NC, for French and Creole speakers to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts. One young Soldier, with less than two years in the Army, immediately volunteered to go back to her parents' homeland and support the mission.
Spc. Jessie Jean, an intelligence analyst assigned to 18th Fires Brigade (Airborne), 82nd Airborne Division, left for Haiti in mid January along with other Soldiers from Fort Bragg.
"I volunteered partly because my family was from there and partly because I felt it was a need," Jean said. "It was something I wanted to do."
Growing up in Miami, Jean learned Creole and Haitian culture from her parents. Now, as an interpreter, Jean was able to break down the language and cultural barriers for the scouts and the medics she assisted from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
"Most people spoke Creole, not French. All of the interpreters were beneficial, but I thought I would be more beneficial than a French speaker. Even though I wasn't born there I am better able to understand the culture."
Jean said because she understands the language and culture she was able to help the Soldiers relate to and understand what the Haitians were going through and their way of thinking.
"I have never been in a situation like that," Jean said. "It was hard, but I was able to break that barrier and let them know that even though we had weapons for safety issues, we were there to help."
Working with the scouts and medics was a rewarding experience for her, but also difficult at times. Seeing people suffering from illness and injuries, as well as dealing with people in makeshift camps created challenges for her but also allowed her to expand her horizons.
"I thought I was going to go there and speak and be done, but it was more," she said. "I actually got to see what (the medics and scouts) do. I never do stuff like that. As intelligence I am behind the scenes. But instead of just being in the background I got to actually see and speak with the people."
By working and speaking with the Haitian people Jean got a close up view of the devastation caused by the terrible natural disaster.
"There was a guy who had gangrene on both feet," she said. "There were babies, old women, and children. There was a child with stitches in his toe but it was stitched in wrong and turning gangrenous. We went to orphanages and campsites asking how many people were staying there and if they can build at that site. We asked how many children and how many women were there. There was one orphanage I went to that belonged to a woman from Canada. She wanted to build an orphanage out of the goodness of her heart. She went to Haiti and built a house and school on her land. The school crumbled and there were seven kids in the building. One of them died, but there was a three year old who… was the last one out. I was amazed he survived. He had been in there for days and they didn't even know it. I was really happy that we got to see some of the survivors.
"It was sad to see people in the streets continuously begging," she added. "Haitians are poor, and I was very sad to see the state they were in. Even though at that time you mask your emotions in front of them and even though you can never really relate to the situation, you understood how they felt and what they were going through."
Jean said that in the future she hopes to donate to the orphanage she went to and hopes to see the help continue to pour into the island country.
"What we did down there was beneficial, but Haiti is going to need a lot more," she continued. "Our help is an onward process. What we did helped, because it let them know that there are people who are willing and who are going to help. It wasn't just the military, but all the organizations that helped."
Jean said that returning to her heritage and seeing the poverty and devastation had an effect on her.
"I got to be with my culture and see stuff I haven't done or seen since I was a kid," she said. "I think it changed a lot of us there. It made us more grateful and appreciative of what we have."
Now that she has returned to Fort Bragg she has not stopped helping the people she shares her heritage with. She is donating what she can to help in the relief and said she hopes to organize a fund raiser to help rebuild the orphanage she visited there.