Face of Defense: Soldier Fulfills Army Dream
By Army Pfc. Kissta M. Feldner
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT BRAGG, N.C., Aug. 13, 2009 As an 8-year-old boy sitting on the roof of a friend’s house in war-torn Haiti in 1994, Claudy Bellanger saw a sight that captivated his attention: helicopters speeding past carrying American soldiers.
Army Spc. Claudy Bellanger’s experiences with U.S. soldiers as a boy growing up in Haiti led to his joining the Army. U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Kissta M. Feldner
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“I’d never seen them with my own eyes before, only on television,” he said.
Bellanger’s boyhood experiences with U.S. troops in his home country set him on a path that eventually led him to join the U.S. Army.
Today, Bellanger, 23, is an Army specialist assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division’s A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team.
His journey began in Jacmel, Haiti, where he was born and lived for the first 18 years of his life.
For much of his childhood, Haiti was a military dictatorship. The government took money from its citizens, who couldn’t afford to buy food or go to school, Bellanger said. “As a Third World country, it’s pretty rough to live there,” he said.
Bellanger recalled participating in protests against the government as a young boy, waving tree branches in the air and yelling. At these riots, the government’s paramilitary police force would gas the crowds. The larger the crowds became, the more people were hurt or killed, he said.
President Bill Clinton sent U.S. forces into Haiti in September 1994 as part of Operation Restore Democracy. The goal was to end human rights abuses against the people of Haiti and reinstate the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
On Sept. 18, 1994, Haitian leaders learned that paratroopers with the “All-American” 82nd Airborne Division were on their way to conduct a parachute assault into Haiti. They quickly agreed to give up power, and the aircraft carrying the paratroopers were called back.
Later, soldiers from the 82nd’s 3rd Battalion, 73rd Armor Regiment deployed to Haiti to support the peacekeeping operation. Bellanger had several memorable interactions with the soldiers, including eating his first meals, ready-to-eat beef dinner. “I think that was the best meal,” he said. “It was good compared to what I was eating.”
A more significant experience came when Bellanger approached two American soldiers on guard duty and asked how he too could join the U.S. Army. One of the soldiers gave him a recruiting business card, and Bellanger ran home to make the call. He was told that, in addition to being too young, he needed to become a U.S. citizen. And that’s what he did.
At 18, Bellanger left Haiti to live with his father in Jersey City, N.J., where he spent two years learning English and earned his GED diploma. “I didn’t want to waste any time,” he said.
Bellanger again called the number on that business card that he had kept for 12 years, and joined the Army at last. “I was so focused and determined to make it, that I did everything that I could,” he said. “I just wanted to be in the Army. Now I’m in the 82nd. It’s a dream come true.”
(Army Pfc. Kissta M. Feldner serves with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)