Return is bittersweet for Haitians in U.S. military U.S. INTERVENTION IN HAITI

October 13, 1994|By New York Times News Service

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Sgt. Patrick Marc-Charles knew that he would be part of the U.S. force that would invade Haiti, but he did not know whether he was going to return to the country of his birth with weapons blazing.

More than most of the 20,000 U.S. soldiers here, he had a special reason for concern: His brother, Henry-Robert Marc-Charles, is a colonel in the Haitian army.

The night before he left his base, Lajes Field in the Azores, he prayed to God that he would not have to fire his weapon.

"I am definitely happy the way things have turned out," said Sergeant Marc-Charles, a 15-year veteran of the Air Force. "I was born here. I did not want to come here and shoot at a Haitian."

Sergeant Marc-Charles' plight reflects that of many of the 700 Haitian-American soldiers who are part of the mission to restore order in the strife-torn country and pave the way for the return of the exiled president, the Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

On one hand, they welcomed the chance to bring peace and jTC hope to their native land. On the other, they wondered how they would be received.

They were picked from every branch of the military to work primarily as linguists and in psychological operations. Their daily routine consists of direct contact with the Haitian people and acting as sort of ambassadors, bridging the cultural gaps between their native land and adopted home.

"I educate them by telling them about the history and culture of the country," said Sergeant Marc-Charles of his U.S. colleagues, who are often puzzled by Haitian habits and mores. "Besides being an interpreter, this is the best job I can do while I am here. An educated service member is a better diplomat."

Part of the job for most Haitian-American soldiers consists of working with the psychological operations team, posting Creole-language fliers and broadcasting radio announcements telling people of their rights and responsibilities in a democracy.

One flier warns people of the dangers of violence and to respect people's rights.

"Let your voice be heard," the flier says. "At the same time, you have to hear what other people are telling you."

Like Marine Pfc. Wallace Cima, 19, of East Orange, N.J., many of the Haitian-American soldiers left Haiti years ago and had not set foot here again until the military operation three weeks ago.

Their image of Haiti -- created largely from the nostalgic words and pictures of their parents -- is that of a poor country, but one that is fiercely proud. Many could only imagine what the mountainous nation looks like.

In the streets, they are often surrounded by groups of Haitians peppering them with questions, eager to know about their lives.

Many of the people see them as a sort of returning hero coming to save the home that they left behind.

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