By Army Pfc. Michael Schuch and Army Spc. Joshua Ramey
Special to American Forces Press Service
Sept. 17, 2008 - For Army Pfc. Wislet Genelus of Company B, 40th Engineer Battalion, the path to U.S. citizenship is finally complete – at the age of 40. Born in Jean-Rabe, Haiti, Genelus has been on the front lines of political turmoil for 23 years.
Genelus' parents moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. shortly after he was born, while he spent the first 15 years of his life living with his aunt in Haiti.
"Growing up, I wasn't aware of what caused the turmoil that surrounded us, but the kids were only allowed to go to school and church," Genelus remembered. "The last five years I was there, I remember there were demonstrations all the time. People were trying to overthrow the dictatorship."
At age 15, Genelus moved to live with his parents, where he spent the next nine years finishing school in the United States while working as a taxi driver.
In 1993, Genelus was drawn back to Haiti by the memory of friends and family. Upon his return, he worked with the Haitian National Police for eight years.
"In 2003, while I was a police officer, that's when [the political situation] got really bad," Genelus explained. "The government began to crack down on all opposition. There was no justice, only government rule. You couldn't say what was on your mind, and everyone was afraid. We were the Police -- the strong arm of the dictator."
Genelus left Haiti shortly after the crackdown on resistance began - this time permanently.
"The crackdown began with us," he said. "I couldn't handle that stuff. I had lived nine years in the United States, and I was expected to do things that were unbelievable."
Genelus joined the Army in 2006 as an engineer and was later assigned to the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. He was assigned to the 40th Engineer Battalion, where he began training for the route-clearance missions he would be asked to perform.
In April, he deployed to the southeastern area of Baghdad province, where he performed nearly 100 missions in just the first five months.
"The work isn't really that much different than the Police work [in Haiti]," Genelus said. "The Army is what I like to do; it's about providing security."
While stationed here, Genelus began to research the steps required to attain U.S. citizenship. After consulting his chain of command, he used Army channels to apply for citizenship and was approved. In early September, Genelus became a U.S. citizen, though he still needs to take a written test and the citizenship oath when he returns to the United States from Iraq.
Genelus is not alone in his attempts at U.S. citizenship while deployed to Iraq, as two fellow soldiers from the 40th Engineer Battalion joined him in the quest. Pfc. Alvin Ramirez-Somarriba of Miami and Spc. Cauldric Dasent, from the U.S. Virgin Islands, are awaiting the results of their applications for citizenship.
(Army Pfc. Michael Schuch serves in the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office. Army Spc. Joshua Ramey serves the brigade's 40th Engineer Battalion.)