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Face of Defense: Paratrooper, Ex-boxer, Earns Citizenship

By Army Spc. Michael J. MacLeod
Special to American Forces Press Service

FORT BRAGG, N.C., June 3, 2009 – Irony, our English teachers told us, often is confused with odd coincidence. Just ask Army Pfc. Wenderson Jangada of the 82nd Airborne Division, who will tell you it is ironic that the benefits of enlisting in the U.S. Army can be more significant to immigrants than to citizens.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Pfc. Wenderson Jangada raises his right hand to become a U.S. citizen May 22, 2009, in Raleigh, N.C. Jangada, who speaks six languages, is from Brazil. U.S. Army photo
  

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

Jangada, who became a U.S. citizen in Raleigh, N.C., on May 22, has a knack for linguistics. Not only does he speak six languages, but he also has written an historic novel about Attila the Hun.

The well-spoken, 34-year-old Brazilian immigrant who serves with 1st Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, also is a former professional boxer.

Every enlistee has a story, but the tracks laid by older enlistees often are the most colorful. Jangada’s is a love story, for a woman and a country.

“I was in Paris sparring the French heavyweight champion and teaching soldiers in the French Foreign Legion to box when I met my wife,” he said.

A likely story.

“I met him at a bar,” said Susan Jangada. An American from the small town of Linn Grove, Ind., she was a star volleyball player, the second best pro “middle” in all of France.

Jangada introduced himself and gave the attractive American his phone number. She stuck it in her pocket, she said, intending to throw it away at first chance.

“I didn’t want anything to do with someone I met at a bar, and besides, I didn’t want to be tied down in France,” she said, noting the irony.

Jangada began his fighting career studying muay thai at Chute Boxe, the same Brazilian gym that spawned mixed martial-arts champs Wanderlei and Anderson Silva.

People said he had “heavy hands.”

“Anyone you touch, you put to sleep,” a friend said of Jangada’s quick knockouts. He suggested the 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound Brazilian try boxing.

Jangada’s first boxing match ended in a knockout. “I broke the guy’s nose and knocked him down. There was blood everywhere. But I had no technique,” he said.

He became a student of the sport. He trained hard, went pro and became the transcontinental heavyweight champion for 2001 and 2002. He aspired to make Brazil’s Olympic team, but the soccer-loving country had no money for boxers.

A friend suggested he move to Europe. “There are too many obstacles for foreigners to fight in the U.S.,” Jangada said. “Europe is easier, and the money’s the same.”

Coincidentally, a certain pro volleyball player from Indiana was in Paris at the same time. The phone number that she intended to throw away — the one a friend encouraged her to dial, the number she texted two weeks later — would connect her to her future husband and father of her children.

Now pregnant with the couple’s second child, Susan Jangada recounted their journey to her husband’s enlistment in the Army and eventual U.S. citizenship as one that only true love could endure.

A doctor advised Jangada to quit boxing before recurring health issues became serious. Facing similar issues on the court, Susan Jangada suggested that starting a family would be easier in the United States.

“She took me to a Starbucks and fed me cheesecake and hot chocolate. I could not believe how good it was, and this came from America,” he said, laughing. “I wanted to go to this country.”

Each went home -- Jangada to Brazil for a visa, Susan to Indiana, where she worked three jobs to save money to start a family.

“It took seven months for him to get the visa interview,” Susan Jagada said. Once his application was approved, he was in Indiana within 24 hours. The couple was married two weeks later on Nov. 27, 2005.

Jangada submitted paperwork for a green card so that he could find work. Susan took a job in Shreveport, La., coaching college volleyball, but the $15,000 salary wasn’t enough. The couple moved in with Susan’s parents, and Susan taught high school as a substitute teacher. When she landed a coaching job at Houston Baptist University, a Division One school with a more generous salary, the couple moved again.

“But I was pregnant, and my husband wanted to take care of me and the baby,” she said. A short while later, Jangada’s green card was approved.

“I went to the Marine recruiter, but since I did not speak any English, they would not take me. They suggested I try the Army,” Jangada said. He guessed his way through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and passed.

“He asked me what job he should choose in the Army, and I suggested cook, plumber or electrician,” Susan Jangada said. “Anything but infantry.”

Jungata chose infantry. “I am a fighter,” he said. “I want to be in the lead. It’s my nature.”

At basic training, he learned his sixth language – English – from fellow recruits and earned Soldier of the Cycle honors. Airborne school was easy, the ex-athlete said, though he acknowledged landings for the big man always were hard.

Assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company of the 82nd’s 1-504th, Jangada was hand-picked by Army Sgt. Maj. Frank Hacker to serve on the team that provides security for the battalion’s senior leaders.

“I was impressed with his boxing background and the way he presented himself,” said Hacker, who, with his wife, attended Jangada’s citizenship ceremony. “The man knows six languages, and now he is teaching himself Arabic — not just to speak it, but to read and write it.”

Jangada said it just makes sense to him. “It is like in boxing,” he explained. “When I am deployed, my opponent will speak Arabic. I want to know him.”

Set to deploy to Iraq in August with 1st Brigade, Jangada said he believes that, in his absence, his pregnant wife and 16-month-old daughter will be well cared for by the Army family. With readily available health care, his steady Army income, and other resources available to his family, he will be able to stay focused on his job, he said. When he returns from Iraq, he may use his GI Bill to go to college, he added.

“I come into the Army, and they don’t care that I am not a citizen. They accept me anyway,” he said. Even better, the Army made it easy for him to become a citizen, he noted.

“I am so grateful for all that I received that I will put my life on the line for this country,” Jangada said.

“Sometimes I can’t believe that he used to be a professional boxer,” his wife said. “But then we run into some of his old acquaintances, and they holler, ‘Jangada, where have you been?’ And they cannot believe he is in the Army.”

Life is full of the unexpected, she said.

(Army Spc. Michael J. MacLeod serves with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team public affairs office.)

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