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Guyanan brothers answer U.S. call
For brothers and U.S. Army paratroopers Bermel and Nighel Agrippa, the road to settling down in the United States has taken a detour that brought them to this desert military camp.
Less than two years ago, Bermel, 32, and Nighel, 29, were living in their native Guyana when they received notice from U.S. immigration officials that they had been granted visas to live and work in the United States--something they had been seeking since the mid-1980s.
Although Bermel had a good job as an Internet technology consultant and Nighel had steady work as a customs officer, they decided that moving to the United States offered them a chance at school and improving their lives.
"I knew that once I got to America that I would have to start from scratch," Bermel said as he took a break from his job as a generator mechanic at the 82nd Airborne Division's camp in Kuwait. "But I thought that at this point, I would be going to school."
Instead, Bermel and Nighel, who also is a generator mechanic with the 82nd Airborne, are readying themselves for a possible war in Iraq. They are among more than 3,000 soldiers at the camp who could be called on to make the division's first combat parachute assault since the invasion of Panama in 1989, when President Manuel Noriega was ousted.
The Agrippas, who have to wait about 3 1/2 years before they are eligible to apply for citizenship, are believed to be the only brothers serving the division in Kuwait, 82nd Airborne officials said.
Sgt. Eric Foltz said foreign soldiers are rare in the Army, and non-citizen brothers joining a unit together is unheard of.
"What they are doing is a good way to show their loyalty to their new country," Foltz said. "It's too bad that more native-borns don't follow the Agrippas' example."
The Agrippa brothers arrived in August 2001 in Miami, where their mother had settled several years earlier. They hoped to find work quickly, save some money and eventually become citizens.
But with the Sept. 11 attacks, the economy faltered and the brothers said they could not find even menial labor.
Weeks after the attacks, Bermel was out with his mother when he saw a soldier in another car.
"When I saw that solider, I thought that the military must have something for me," he said.
He had his mother drive him directly to the nearest Army recruitment office and signed up on the spot.
"I remember I was sitting there and listening to music when he told me. I couldn't believe it," Nighel recalled. "He came home and said to me, `I've joined the Army.' I thought to myself, `What has my brother done?'"
But about two hours after Bermel had enlisted, Nighel was at the recruitment office. A few months later the two were off to basic training at Ft. Benning, Ga., and then to jump school in Aberdeen, Md., before being stationed at the 82nd Airborne's headquarters at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Their tour in Kuwait marks the first time since joining the military that they have not roomed together.
Both brothers have wives in Guyana whom they have been trying to bring to the United States. They said it has been difficult to get their wives and Nighel's child into the country because immigration rules have tightened since Sept. 11. They are trying to prove to INS officials that they can support their families.
The deployment also has caused strain on their family, the brothers said.
They said their mother, Willa Christiani, is worried that she might lose both of them to a war that she opposes.
"She doesn't think there is anything in this war that is worth fighting for," Bermel said.
Christiani said she worries for her sons' safety and wishes the Army would have kept at least one of them in the United States. Nevertheless, she said she understands they have to do their duty.
"I, of course, hope that a war doesn't happen and they are able to come home without any fighting," Christiani said. "I understand that it is their turn to go. But why do they have to send them both?"
Nighel said he enjoys having Bermel so close at Champion Main, the headquarters where the division's 2nd Brigade combat team is stationed, but he wishes his big brother were back home.
"I wish he was back at Bragg," Nighel said. "When this finally starts, it's going to be real--a real war--not something on TV. I don't want to have to wonder if my brother is safe when we move forward."