DVIDS – News – Shared Heritage: Haitian-raised U.S. Marine Corps leader finds purpose in leading Marines

DVIDS – News – Shared Heritage: Haitian-raised U.S. Marine Corps leader finds purpose in leading Marines

When U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Viliana Jean-François was five years old, she left her family in Haiti and began her migration to the United States. After enduring hardships during her childhood, Jean-François turned those hardships into honor, living a life of service to her new country and rising through the ranks from NCO to officer.

She was fortunate to have an adoptive family who cared for her until her immediate family in Haiti could begin their own immigration process. Although most of her chosen biological family is scattered around Florida, which she currently calls her home, she still has strong cultural ties and family in Haiti.

Jean-François’ deep passion for education began at an early age: from primary school through to college, she devoted herself to her studies, studying hard and participating in school organisations and volunteer work.

“My mother wasn’t allowed to go to school. My father said that women should stay at home cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. My mother couldn’t even write her own name. “I didn’t have the opportunity,” Jean-François says. “I had that opportunity. I knew nothing was going to stand between me and going to school, except me. So I did it.”

Education has been a driving force in her life, starting as an elementary school student while living in Florida. Jean-François applied for many scholarships and grants to make her dream come true. She was given the opportunity to become a naturalized student while attending college, and she wanted to study abroad for a semester.

“I applied for American citizenship while I was submitting my documents to study abroad. I do community service and wanted to become a U.S. citizen so I could participate in the voting process, so I spoke with members of Congress. They cooperated and wrote me a letter,” Jean-François said. She was granted the opportunity to study abroad, and she completed her course of study. She was naturalized the same year she applied for her citizenship.

To celebrate his graduation achievement, Jean-François set off on a vacation to Hawaii with his best friends. “Where should we go? Pearl Harbor. I had an idea,” Jean-François said. “Visiting all the monuments and sights and meeting members of the ministry did something for me…And ironically, when I returned, my church The day was coming.”

Jean-François, who had recently earned his college degree, went to talk to a non-commissioned officer recruiter. He served as a noncommissioned officer, and then he wanted to know what the process was like before he was commissioned as an officer. “I didn’t want to take on the role without having the motivation and ability to do all the things that I expect from a Marine, so I felt my calling was to serve first as a non-commissioned officer,” Jean-Francois said.

She believes that a team is a collection of individuals. When one team member goes down, the entire team suffers. That’s why Jean-Francois truly cares about the success of each and every Marine. It’s also why she strives to emulate the Marine Corps principle: “One Team, One Fight.”

“Serving just felt natural to me. If I wake up and I’m taking care of somebody, or if I’m helping somebody have a better day, or if I’m contributing to making a difference in somebody’s life just by being there and being me, then I’ve won. I felt like the Marine Corps offered that,” Jean-Francois said.

Jean-Francois works with Marines from bottom to top in the same spirit of service, helping Marines of all ranks understand the intricacies of how to form a team and accomplish a mission. “That’s what we did in our section. For me, I feel like I’m here for them, that’s why I exist,” Jean-François said.

Despite the danger, she was able to visit Haiti and meet her biological brother. During her visit, she saw the devastation firsthand; people were affected and still are affected by natural disasters and civil war in the country. “I just hope that we can come out of this united as Haitians, preserving our rich traditions and heritage, and our strength as the first republic that showed the world that slavery is not necessary and that people can be free, and come out of this civil war and lawlessness that has besieged us, and come together like we were in 1804,” Jean-François said.

Despite the devastation he witnessed, Jean-Francois was able to take all of the injustice he’d endured and turn it into strength and compassion, turning it around to have a powerful impact on the Marines he leads. “It’s allowed me to be empathetic and it’s helped me identify Marines who might be struggling… And at the end of the day, every situation is different, but I can offer myself and whatever decision they make, I’ll be right there shoulder-to-shoulder with them,” Jean-Francois said.

Maj. Jean-Francois currently serves as the fiscal planner for the 4th Marine Logistics Group, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, New Orleans, Louisiana.

(Story by U.S. Marine Sergeant Emily Kirk)

Data collected: May 23, 2024
Posted on: May 23, 2024 10:50
Story ID: 472110
position: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
home town: Miami, Florida, USA

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