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Sudanese joins Marine Corps to help others

By Lance Cpl. Charlie Chavez | | October 26, 2007

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MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --  Fighting back tears, a Company A Marine tells the story of a civil war and the Marines who saved him.

 Private Okuni Cube Mawa, Platoon 1005, was born in the southern area of Sudan.

 Mawa was visiting his grandparents, who also lived in the southern Sudan, during the outbreak the civil war in the early 1990s. When the war broke out, his parent’s fled the country with his older brother and sister.

 Insurgents from northern and southern Sudan swept the countryside and ripped young boys from their families to fight in the war.

 Mawa’s grandparents, helpless to stop the insurgents, could do little when he was taken from them. Mawa was forced to patrol the jungles at the young age of eight.

 “I didn’t even know who I was fighting for - the north, south or Uganda,” said Mawa shakily. “I was joined by several other boys my age, and was managed by a couple adults.”

 While patrolling the jungles of Sudan, the groups of young boys were forced to search through the jungle for food and water.

 “I had to drink dirty water from the Nile River,” he said. “I remember walking through the jungle for about three or four months.”

 One day while patrolling through the jungle, Mawa encountered American service members searching for survivors of the war.

 Mawa believes the service members who rescued him were Marines.

 After being taken out of the jungle, he was flown to a refugee camp in Uganda.

 “Once I came to the refugee camp, I watched the helicopters bring food that the volunteers gave to the survivors,” said Mawa. “I knew helping others was something I wanted to do with my life.”

 Once in Uganda, Mawa registered with the Red Cross who began the search for his family. He was separated from his family for four years when the Red Cross finally located his parents in Egypt.

 Mawa’s grandparents stayed in Uganda, but Mawa lived alone and longed to be reunited with his parents.

 The Red Cross transferred Mawa in 1994 to reunite with his family which was living in a catholic church. While they were at the refugee camp in Egypt, they applied to relocate to the United States, Great Britain and Canada.

 His family was accepted and relocated in 1999 to Salt Lake City, Utah. They began searching for work and attending public schools.

 Once in America, Mawa’s family was in awe of the luxuries and lifestyles of Americans.

 “It was an absolutely humbling experience to see everything you could possibly want in front of you,” Mawa said about convenience stores. “I couldn’t grasp the idea of having everything I wanted around me.”

 Mawa and his family assimilated into American culture, which sparked his interest to reconnect with his childhood dream of helping other. Mawa worked closely with military recruiters who he believed would provide him with an avenue to be part of disaster-relief efforts and work with other countries.

 “Since the Marines are the first in any situation, I narrowed my choices down and joined after I had my kid,” said Mawa. “My goals are to help [struggling countries] and do my part.

 Before Mawa decided to become a Marine, he worked in cabinetry, where his hard work and dedication were noticed by his supervisors.

 “He worked for me for about a year and a half,” said Larry Summer, Mawa’s former manager at Cabinetry by Karmen, Salt Lake City, Utah. “[He was a] very athletic, strong kid who was a sharp guy; he was always wanted to do more and learn more.”

 Once in boot camp, Mawa quickly found his place among his fellow Marines and excelled physically. Yet despite his physical acceleration, Mawa struggled with English and couldn’t speak as quickly as others.

 “He is an absolutely stellar recruit,” said Drill Instructor Staff Sgt. Erick Cortes, Platoon 1005, Co. A. “He stood out in the beginning of boot camp and that is why he is one of my squad leaders. The language barrier was there but he broke through it quickly.”

 Despite being lost in translation occasionally, Mawa thrived on the rifle range at Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., when the instructions were broken down slowly and explained thoroughly.

 “I found it hard to find what I needed to say when I was nervous,” he said. “I plan to continue working on my English and my education in the Marine Corps.”

 Mawa said he plans to do as much as he possibly can to find a way across seas to help developing countries. He joined the Marines as an amphibious assault vehicle crewman. He hopes his new job in the Corps will find him a fast track to help people.

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