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Face of Defense: From Life in India to U.S. Army, Soldier Sees the World

By U.S. Army Sgt. James Hunter
Special to American Forces Press Service

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq,, April 24, 2008 – The nearly 200 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who became U.S. citizens during a naturalization ceremony at the Al Faw Palace here on April 12 each took a different route to the military and their service in Iraq.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
U.S. Army Spc. Vivek Mishra, a native of central India, raises his right hand and recites the Oath of Citizenship during a U.S. naturalization ceremony at the Al Faw Palace at Camp Liberty, Iraq, April 12, 2008. Mishra serves as a chemical operations specialist for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Multinational Division Baghdad. Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. James Hunter, Multinational Division Baghdad

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Spc. Vivek Mishra, a chemical operations specialist born and raised in central India, took a rather unusual route to his new life. Mishra serves in Multinational Division Baghdad and is assigned to the 101st Airborne Division’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.

His father was a doctor, serving at the head of India’s Department of Pharmacy. Mishra’s family was wealthy; famine or war didn’t bring him to the United States of America. His studies did.

He grew up in a large household that held anywhere from 25 to 40 family members at any given time. There was a lot of respect among the household’s members, he said, and a major focus on family and religious values.

Often, Mishra spent time with his friends at clubs or dining out at the restaurants that lined the highways near bodies of water. When it was time for Mishra to go to college, he knew exactly the field he wanted to join. He felt he was not good at math, and he didn’t like art. He wanted to be a chemist.

“At that time when I was in India, they considered it a very big thing to be a doctor,” Mishra said, “but my dad never forced me to do anything. He said whatever I wanted to choose to do, do it.”

After three years at the Government Science College, Mishra earned his bachelor’s degree. Then, less than three years later, he earned his master’s degree in chemistry at the Rani Durgeivati University in Jabalpur, India.

“In chemistry, I love reactions,” he said. “You cannot see it how it changes into another substance. When you mix two substances, it will have a reaction. I love being able to understand those things.”

After earning his master’s degree, Mishra joined the doctorate program. During his studies, he said, his professor asked if he was interested in getting another master’s degree at a school in the United States. He said he thought it would be a good choice, but wanted his parent’s opinion on the matter first. His father told him if he stayed in India, he would just know his surroundings; however, he would not know the “real world.”

Mishra arrived in the United States in 2002 and enrolled at Illinois State University to work toward another master’s degree in chemistry. He was nearly complete with his degree, he said, with one semester left and 80 percent of his thesis done, when he decided he needed to take a break from school.

He was recently married, and said he didn’t make much money working as a graduate assistant at the university. He had to put college aside to provide for him and his wife. He worked a numerous jobs, but never really found his true calling. He said he wanted to work in a lab as a chemist, mixing different substances.

“At that time, I said, ‘Well, I do not have this much patience to continue to look for a job,’” he recalled. After seeing an article on recruitment, he decided the next best thing for him would be the military. Mishra recalled with a chuckle that he didn’t tell his parents he’d joined the Army until he graduated from advanced individual training, where he became a chemical operations specialist.

“They were in shock,” he said.

His mother didn’t want him to join the military, he said, but his parents understood he wanted to make a difference. His mother thought that no matter where he was as a soldier a bullet would find him, he said. That has not been the case.

Mishra said being in the military is his true calling.

“I will be in the Army for about 20 to 25 years, as long as my body permits it,” he said. “It’s like a big family. It’s a big mental support. I have made a lot of changes within myself.”

When growing up, he said, he wasn’t given orders; he simply was given the choice if he wanted to do something or not.

“I have learned responsibility and order,” he said.

Now that he’s a soldier and a U.S. citizen, his next goal in his career is to become an officer in the chemical field.

“War is completely changing, but chemicals are still an issue,” Mishra said. “The chemical corps is growing, and they need really good soldiers to understand all these things.”

He said he wants to maximize his abilities with chemicals in relation to the military. In the meantime, however, he will first soak in his new status as an American citizen.

“It’s completely different now to be an American citizen. It’s a good feeling,” Mishra said. “Now I am on the same track as everyone. I don’t think anyone treated me differently because I wasn’t a citizen, but it’s a mental thing.”

Becoming an American citizen is an honor Mishra deserves, said Army Capt. Robert Woodruff, his commander.

“Specialist Mishra exemplifies all that is good in an American soldier, even before he officially became a U.S. citizen,” Woodruff said. “He’s been through a roller coaster ride for the two years to get to this culminating point in his life. He is technically and tactically proficient in his skills as the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear expert in the company, routinely filling the shoes of a noncommissioned officer on a daily basis. He definitely deserves this.”

(Army Sgt. James Hunter serves in Multinational Division Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office.)

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