Joining the military is not an easy decision, and for a refugee/immigrant, there are other issues to contend with for themselves and their families. Moe Tin Soe, 34, has lived in the United States for just two years. He began learning English in the Thailand refugee camps, and continues to improve as a student at Hennepin Technical College where he plans to finish studies in Industrial Building Engineering and Maintenance this summer.
An ethnic Burmese who was born and raised in Hpa-an, the capitol city of the Karen State in Burma, Moe said he was 22 years-old when he and a brother and sister fled to safety in Thailand.
“I come from an upper-middle-class family, but my father was killed by the government,” said Moe. “He used to buy stuff from Thailand and sell as a trader. He was on the road on the way back to Hpa-an when he was killed.”
The effort to come to America involved immigration interviews for his family and Moe said it took a lot of support from various international groups to make it to the United States; a land he said was different from what he read about in classes at the camps.
Moe said that military life appeals to him and that a conversation with a U.S. Army recruiter at HTC led to his interest in becoming a mechanic. He enlisted out of the Roseville recruiting station earlier this year.
His chosen occupation, Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic (91B in Army nomenclature) involves the maintenance and repair of wheeled and some armored vehicles and diesel engines. There is also ongoing certification training in specialized components.
Moe said his first choice was to become a Blackhawk Helicopter mechanic. His initial physical examination produced concerns that were later waived. However, by that time he sad the position was no longer available.
Moe and his spouse, Maela, have one daughter, Thedah, a 9 year-old third grader. He plans to apply for citizenship and to stay in the Army for the long term.
“I plan to stay in for a career and I have already explained about this to my wife and she agreed with me,” he said. “This is a three year contract but I plan to stay in longer.”
SFC Daniel Short, Roseville Recruiting Station commander, mentioned that until a soldier is an American citizen, it is more difficult to get security clearances, and this prevents them from working certain occupations. Once they have their citizenship, he said the possibilities expand to anything an American born citizen can do in the Army.
The advantage to becoming a citizen through the military, said Short, is that the Army assists in the process immediately with citizenship classes and testing, and paying for the naturalization applications that can cost as much as $800 – and all while they conduct their regular training.
Moe said that his biggest concern is for his family. Maela does not speak English very well yet, and depends more on the Burmese community than he does. She will need to live in a more mainstream community, on-or-near the military bases where they will be stationed.
He will be looking for support mechanisms for her that will work as well as her community of Burmese here in Minnesota.
“I am going into military life to move straight forward for my family and for myself,” said Moe. “I hope that joining the Army will be the next step.”
Moe is scheduled to report for basic training this September at Fort Jackson, SC. In the meantime he participates in the Future Soldiers Program for recruits and their families, which offer online information sources on things such as military post descriptions, training, advancement and support networks.
Station recruiter SSgt. Joseph Haedtke is the Future Soldiers Squad Leader, said the program is also a way for the recruit to get a “foot in door” in preparing for a very different experience.
The Midwest recruiting stations are fairly unique in teaching recruits to get a head start on military customs and courtesies and leadership skills, he said, adding that on Tuesday afternoons the recruits come in to learn marching and to begin conditioning in physical training exercises, such as push-ups, sit-ups and the two-mile run.
Haedtke said that the feedback has been good. Recruits that go through the preparation know better what to expect and have a much better time of it during basic training.
“We teach them about basic training and give them stuff to study,” said Haedtke. “They start building leadership skills now to get ahead instead of cramming later.”
Although he did not enlist in a combat specialty occupation, Moe said he is aware that his duty will likely require serving in a hostile environment at some point during his enlistment.
“I know that one day I am going to serve in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran or North Korea,” he said. “If they send me there then I will go there and I will be very happy to go there.”