Featured News

Haitian-born Marine pays it forward in Iraq

4 Oct 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Lance Cpl. Clifford Sajous clearly remembers the first Marines he saw.  They were patrolling through the streets of his home in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, in 1994.

He knew then that they were there to help.  Twelve years later, he’s wearing that Marine uniform and doing the same thing for Iraqis here.

“I saw the Marines and they looked hard,” Sajous said. “The guys in the turret, their gear, their glasses, they looked high speed. I wanted to be just like them.”

And nothing would change his mind.

“When I want something, I get it,” he said.

Now 19, Sajous is a lance corporal and serves as a rifleman with the Marines of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment in Habbiniyah, Iraq under Regimental Combat Team 5.

He does daily patrols, sweating with his unit under sweltering heat conducting operations to help Iraqis get back on their feet. He does it while fulfilling the concerns of the locals and more importantly the kids there in the same way Marines once did for him.

“He was a kid seeing Marines as a kid helping out his country,” said Lance Cpl. Bryan D. Bridges, a rifleman with L Company.  “Now he’s here doing the same thing for other kids who need it in a country that’s war-torn.”

The 19-year-old squad automatic weapon gunner from Shelby, N.C., thinks what Sajous did is great.

Others agree.

“I think it’s an admirable thing to do,” said Staff Sgt. John L. Allnutt, Sajous’ platoon sergeant. “And he likes what he does.”

The 36-year-old from Gaithersburg, Md., said Sajous is just paying it forward.

He was raised by a single mother in Haiti.

“My mother struggled with me because I didn’t have a dad,” he said. “I only just met my dad when I was 11.”

On top of that, killings were nearly everyday occurrences there.

Gangs would provide the homeless shelter and guns if the homeless would take care of the gangs’ dirty work, Sajous said.

He vividly remembers house burglaries and the smell of rubber tires burning in the street.

His mother decided it would be best for his family to move to the United States, not only for their safety but for better job opportunities.

They now reside there with his grandmother in the middle-class suburbs of Elmont, N.Y.

However, he feels he has now taken on a bread-winner role for the family.

He said his mom influenced him to join the Corps.

“I wanted to help her out and make her proud of me,” Sajous said.

He made the life-changing decision on his own, though.

“I was in the 11th grade,” Sajous said. “I saw the commercial, ‘the few, the proud, the Marines,’ so I called the ‘1-800’ number and they gave me a number to a recruiter in the area.”

Then he called the recruiter and told the recruiter he wanted to join the Marine Corps as a “grunt.”

“They were surprised because they don’t really get calls like that,” Sajous said. “After that they asked for my info. They told me I wasn’t old enough and come back when I got a high school diploma.”

He called the recruiter once again in March 2005 in his senior year.

“I took the test and passed it,” Sajous said. “I did the physical and all that, and when I graduated June 26 I went to boot camp the next day, June 27.”

“I was so eager to become a Marine,” he said. “I was motivated and excited. It was something that presented a challenge. I went to boot camp and graduated.”

Sajous said he got the best graduation present a Marine could get. His mom was there.

“My mom started crying,” he said. “She said I walked and talked different. The way I carried myself was different. My whole perspective changed. I basically grew up in three months.”

His father was there.

Sajous hadn’t seen his father for eight years.

“My dad flew from Haiti to Parris Island,” he said. “He surprised me. I was happy. He was happy to see me. We hugged and talked for a little while. He gave me money for graduation.”

Sajous couldn’t help to feel a little proud.

He later went on to recruiter assistance and then to the fleet.

When all seemed full circle he was called to deploy with his unit to Iraq. His family was proud but sad to see him go.

“She knows I don’t like to see her cry,” Sajous said.  “I hugged for a little while. She cried later.”

He still made the best of the situation. Sajous took his eight-year-old sister out for some fun.

“I took my sister to Chuckie Cheese, movies and shopping,” he said.  “She was happy.

“She says that I’m her hero and stuff,” he said. “I don’t know how to feel. I’m happy, shocked.”

His sister was shocked too.

“She started crying,” Sajous said. “I gave her a hug and told her that I’ll see her when I get back and we’re going to go shopping, Six Flags or Splish-Splash.”

He has plans of expanding his education so he can take up a career in criminology or private security when he gets back.

He is learning Spanish to add another language to the other three languages he already knows.

He’s proficient in French, Creole and English.

“That will put me at the top of the list,” he said.

Sajous stays focused for now.

“I’m eager to help my family, but (we’ve) still got work to do here,” he said.