View Full Version : With a heavy heart, Marine tries to help his nation of birth

03-27-04, 08:50 AM
March 26, 2004

With a heavy heart, Marine tries to help his nation of birth

By C. Mark Brinkley
Times staff writer

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Cpl. Garencha Rene has been gone a long time. The muscular, easygoing supply Marine lived near here, in Martissant, until he was 11. Now 24, married with a two-year-old son, he’s back, volunteering for duty as a translator.
Being here brings memories — long-lost friends, summers shooting marbles and eating mangos, enjoying a slower pace of life. Of his mother, who took care of Rene, his sister and eight other relatives. Of the small, two-room house the 11 of them shared for so long that they finally added a third room.

Rene’s main reason for volunteering is a somber one. His mother — who made sure he had three meals a day, went to school, enjoyed life, went to America — fell ill in February. But the rebel uprising on the island forced a ban on service members traveling to Haiti, even those with unique circumstances.

His mother died Feb. 27, two days before President Jean-Bertrand Aristide left the country and the Marines moved in to help restore order. Although the two spoke weekly on the phone and he sent money, he hadn’t seen her since he left.

So Rene offered to bring his knowledge of Haiti and his fluency in Creole to help the mission. He also hoped to attend his mother’s funeral.

That didn’t happen. Though he was nearby, Rene wasn’t permitted to attend the funeral services because of security concerns. The decision stung, but it doesn’t make him bitter about volunteering.

“I felt like, in a way, my mom was saying to come over here and do something for this country,” Rene said. “So I want to do what I can.”

One of the few Marines here who speaks the native language, Rene has accompanied the infantrymen on foot patrols and humanitarian assistance missions, interacting with the locals. He likes talking to kids especially, warning them of the dangers of getting involved in the gangs that often thrive here.

During a recent water delivery in a poor neighborhood, a young Haitian approached Rene to thank him.

“He was like ‘well, I’m glad you’re here, because you give me hope,’” Rene said. “And he was only about 16, a teenager.”

Now an American citizen, Rene still loves Haiti and hopes to move back here someday with his family. All the nation needs to get on track is a little support, he said.

“There’s a lot of potential here,” Rene said. “It’s just going to take time. It used to be stable. So, as long as they have a good government, they can make it.”

C. Mark Brinkley, the Jacksonville, N.C., bureau chief for Marine Corps Times, is covering Marine Corps operations in Haiti.