CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar –
A Southern Sudan-born Iowa National Guardsman serving with the Knoxville based 3654th Support Maintenance Company here, remembers his struggle to reach America as he works to earn his commission as a U.S. Army clinical social worker.
“We didn’t have food, water or nowhere to hide, praying was the only hope to survive” said Spc. Fourtytwo Yet, a U.S. Army unit supply specialist, or 92 Yankee.
Yet moved with one of his sisters and her four children from war-torn Southern Sudan to the Dadaab refugee camp when he was seven years old.
“I have two brothers, six sisters and a mother and father,” said Yet. “My father passed away during an ambush, my mother passed away because of sickness and only one of my siblings was able to come along with me to the refugee camp.”
Yet was born in 1989 in the small village of Waa Ttown, but he grew up in Kenya, which is one of the many poorest countries in Africa.
“Growing up in my village was not easy, it was not safe at all,” he said. “My father died by a 42-machine gun, and in memory of my father, my mother named me Fourtytwo.” The 42-machine gun, or Mauser general-purpose machine gun is a German-made weapon in use by the German Army since 1942.
Yet said unlike America, which has religious freedom enshrined in the Constitution, his native land is engulfed in sectarian conflicts, where the freedom of religion Americans enjoy is unknown.
The Northerners in Sudan practice Islam and the Southerners practice Christianity; the feud between the two caused a religious war that went on for many years..
“The Northerners wanted everyone to only practice their religion,” he said. “So the country split and created different tribes that had their own practice of religion.”
According to Yet, there were three large tribes in his village and he was a member of the Nuer tribe. His tribe went to war with the Dinka tribe to fight for control of their village.
“The Dinka tribe was the largest in South Sudan, so they wanted their people to be in control of everyone,” he said. “It got to the point that we were outnumbered and our people could not win that battle.” South Sudan is the name of the new country split from the larger Sudan.
After years of fighting an endless war, Yet and hundreds of others decided to leave for a safe haven refugee camp in Kenya.
“We marched on foot for many miles to try to make it to the refugee camp, still battling diseases, wild animals and the enemy,” he said. “Everyone did not make it. The journey to the camp was not easy, but it was worth it.”
The carnage he witnessed will stay with him the rest of his life, he said.
“We were walking through the jungle and the wilderness,” Yet said. “We would step over deceased bodies and see bodies falling as we marched.”
Once they made it to the camp, things improved for his sisters, his nieces and himself, but they were still being mistreated when the U.S. government officials were not there.
“Sometimes they would beat us or even take away some of our food,” he said. “Regardless of that, it was still better than being in Southern Sudan.”
The Iowa National Guardsman said that he felt like he is one of the lucky ones to make it to the camp.
“Every year, there was a process called settlement. That is when the American government officials would come and gather a few of us to go to the United States,” Yet said. “I waited 10 years after being at the camp to get selected to go to America.”
The specialist came to the United States in 2013. He worked at small jobs to get his new life started in America.
“My first job in America, I worked night shift as a janitor,” he said. “I did not know any English or anyone when I first came.”
Yet learned English and some of the basic phrases and words that most Americans use by watching Pink Panther movies and Johnny Bravo cartoons.
“It didn’t feel real when I arrived. I thought that I was dreaming,” he said. “I prayed many nights to get the chance that I got now.”
Yet enlisted in the Army National Guard June 06, 2016 and he has been serving as a supply specialist for six years in the state of Iowa.
“I felt like I owed the U.S. for giving me this amazing opportunity,” Yet said. “Joining the Army was a way that I could show my pride and gratitude for my freedom.”
Shortly after joining the National Guard, he discovered the educational benefits that the military offers, which he took full advantage of going on to earn his associate degree in human services, a bachelor’s in social work and a master’s in social work.
“I have had a lot of sleepless nights trying to achieve my educational goals because I knew what I wanted and refused to give up,” he said. “Back home, we had no schools, so I take my education very seriously. I want to be able to return home and teach the children in the village how to read and write.”
After receiving his bachelor’s degree, the specialist decided that he wanted to be an Army officer and serve as a clinical social worker or even a chaplain or behavior health officer.
The 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade behavioral health care provider Capt. Katherine Lunsford, a clinical psychologist, 73 Bravo, says she is happy to help the Southern Sudan native reach his goals.
“I was impressed by his eagerness, kind heart and willingness to go above and beyond with any task that he is given,” Lunsford said. “As an Army leader and the behavioral health provider, I understand where Specialist Yet came from and I feel like it is my responsibility to help all Soldiers reach their full potential.”
Lunsford contacted a surgeon general consultant for social work to get the requirements that Yet will need to commission and be selected for a social work position in the Army.
“With him having the amount of education that he has, I think that he will definitely be a great competitor in the process of getting selected,” the captain said. “I’ve only known him for a short amount of time, but his attitude and work ethic is something that you don’t see often.”
During his July 26 battlefield circulation here, Maj. Gen. Michel M. Russell Sr., the 1st Theater Sustainment Command commanding general, met Yet and said he was so impressed with him that he gave the specialist his commander’s coin.
The general said he was so personally moved by his story and his ambition to be an Army officer helping other Soldiers, that he turned to 3rd Division Sustainment Brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Denise Malave and told her, “When his packet is done, get it to me and I will sign it.”
Yet said meeting the general was a thrill.
“I was nervous, excited and honored at the same time when I met the commanding general. He was very understanding and easy to talk to,” he said. “This was my first time meeting someone with so much rank, I was glad that my hard work was recognized. It’s always a great feeling to get a pat on your back.”
Yet said he never gave up hope, no matter what situation he found himself in and he wants to share that hope with others.
“The joy that the Army brings me feels unreal, but I am not done yet,” he said. “I still want to be able to take care of my family and give back to my village. I feel like coming to America and joining the Army has put me in the right direction to make all of that possible.”