By Scott Prater | Mountaineer staff
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Sgt. Jefte Sanon swore to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, Jan. 27, 2020. That’s just a small segment of the oath people take upon earning U.S. citizenship, but it holds special meaning for Haitian-born Sanon, who fulfilled his dream of obtaining citizenship after an arduous lifelong journey.
“I assume most people take their citizenship for granted,” he said. “But for me, I don’t just live here. America is my home country now. I feel more American.”
Born and raised on a small island off the coast of Haiti — La Gonave — Sanon was a teenager when he saw his first U.S. Soldier in the mid-1990s. At the time, U.S. forces had intervened to reinstall Haiti’s elected leaders following a military coup.
“I noticed something was different about them,” he said of the Soldiers. “They worked together and they protected each other. It seemed like they were part of a brotherhood, and I wanted to be part of something like that.”
Life in poverty-stricken Haiti proved difficult, however. Thankfully, Sanon said, his family valued education. He would walk miles to and from school each day, in part because his family couldn’t afford a bicycle. His perseverance paid off eventually, though, as he earned a teaching certificate, which led to his first job.
Turns out he has a knack for languages; lots of them. Over the course of his tutelage in Haiti and his travels elsewhere, he learned and now speaks French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and English, along with some Arabic.
Teaching seemed like the right fit for him at the time, but it was during his teaching tenure that local U.N. leaders approached him. They felt his language skills could be put to better use in other parts of the world. Intrigued, Sanon soon sailed for war-torn Sudan, where he worked for the U.N. as a receiving inspector and later as a logistics coordinator, providing food, water and other necessities for the Sudanese populace between 2004 and 2010.
“Those were difficult jobs in dangerous places,” he said. “It took every bit of communication skill I had to move supplies between places. Even though our caravans were clearly marked as U.N. vehicles, it didn’t stop some groups from firing at us. Plus, you had to know and communicate with whoever was in control of a particular region or passageway at any given time.”
That danger eventually led to his flight from Sudan.
He said factions that had orchestrated a war-crime killing sought him for witnessing the event, so U.N. leaders sent him to Miami for three months of rest and recuperation. When U.N. leaders contacted him later, he learned those same factions still occupied the same area of Sudan. So he decided to stay in the U.S.
Holding legal immigration and work status in the U.S., Sanon eventually found his way to Houston where he enrolled in college courses and worked logistical jobs for Lowes and Staples.
“That was 2011,” he said. “I got married in Houston, started a family there, had a good job and was taking college courses. But I wanted to do more. I wanted to give back. That’s when I visited an Army recruiting station and began studying my options.”
Unfortunately, administrative issues cost him a chance at enlistment. He said he tried to enlist a second time in 2014, but that erroneous records foiled his efforts yet again.
Finally in 2016, a Houston-area recruiter called him and asked if he would try again. By that time he was 34 and had been promoted to shipping manager at Staples.
“I took a big pay cut to join the Army,” he said. “But I don’t regret it for a second, even after adjusting my Army career choice to what was available at the time.”
Sanon entered basic training in May 2017 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and attended Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee, Virginia, before traveling to his first duty station – Fort Carson. Officially, he’s a petroleum supply specialist in Forward Support Company, 2nd Battalion, 12th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
And the Army seems to suit him. He’s risen through the ranks with lightning speed, going from private to sergeant in two and half years, thanks to his education and achievements.
“Having the limited number of personnel we have in our platoon, it is vital to be cross-trained and savvy in the multiple (job) obligations that are required to accomplish the mission,” said Sgt. Roger Williams, fuel squad leader, FSC, 2nd Bn., 12th FA Reg. “Sgt. Sanon has proven not only his outstanding dedication, but his tenacity to learning since he arrived to this unit. He never fears to speak up when needed and lead others in the right direction. He has attained a lot of accomplishments quickly this year, (and) the company is proud and happy to celebrate with him. We’re confident he’ll, no doubt, have many more accomplishments this year.”
Still, the citizenship piece looms large in Sanon’s mind.
“There are a lot of steps to take in the citizenship process, but it’s fairly straightforward,” he said. “Being a Soldier already definitely helped. Soldiers have already passed a background check, for example, and have their fingerprints and other biometrics logged. And a Soldier should know most of the information on the citizenship test. Now, my security clearance investigation is already done, but I needed U.S. citizenship to get the clearance. With that comes much more opportunity in the military.”