ROTC students discuss their multicultural pride

With immigration being widely discussed, ROTC students maintain their pride for their homelands, while serving the U.S.

During his first year in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, Moyan Dong crawled through the snow in civilian clothes for a training exercise for two hours. His fellow cadets wore their official ROTC gear during the exercise, but the U.S. military does not issue the gear to cadets without U.S. citizenship, like Dong. By the end of the exercise, his jacket was frozen solid.

Photo: provided by Moyan Dong.
Cadet Moyan Dong, in black, was not issued the ROTC uniform because he is not an American citizen yet.

“Dong is hardcore,” the sophomore at Syracuse University remembered a sergeant saying after the exercise.

Dong, who grew up in Beijing, is the only cadet currently in SU’s ROTC who is not commissioned with the U.S. Armed Forces due to his citizenship status. There are a number of cadets in the same program howeve, who were born outside of the U.S. and have strong cultural ties abroad. Current political immigration discussions have caused fear for many immigrants, causing some to feel torn between feeling safe in the U.S. and expressing pride for their homelands. ROTC students, however, take pride in the U.S., as well as in their original home countries.

“I’m like, the guy who just showed up here one year ago and said, ‘What’s up? I want to join the Army,’” Dong said.

Dong does not personally identify himself as a citizen of a certain country, but prefers to think of himself as a citizen of the world.

“I’m not Chinese or American. Just, like, a human being,” Dong said. “That just makes me feel better.”

Other students in the program have green cards or dual citizenship, which is easier to for the program to accommodate, he explained.

Jaeseung Kim, a sports management junior and an ROTC cadet, moved from South Korea to Atlanta with his parents in 2006. Because he already had a green card when he joined the ROTC, officers issued him the uniform. In 2016, Kim received his U.S. citizenship and his Korean citizenship was terminated. While he does still have family in South Korea, they are supportive of his decision.

“My grandpa for some reason is very proud that I’m going to be an officer in the U.S. Army,” Kim said. “He’s been bragging about it to the church people, like all the time.”

Joel John Rempillo, a junior at SU and an ROTC cadet, also gave up his birth country's citizenship when he became a U.S. citizen. He emigrated from Manila, Philippines to Hawaii at the age of 19 and enlisted in the U.S. Military at the age of 21, where he served as an aircraft attendant. Today, Rempillo is pursuing an education in biochemistry at SU.

Rempillo said he and his family immigrated to the U.S. on a fiancé visa for his father’s marriage to his stepmother. According to the visa stipulations, Rempillo’s father would have to stay with his stepmother in the U.S. for two consecutive years to legitimize the marriage. When his father returned the Philippines before the two years ended, Rempillo worried his own green card would be revoked. Before moving to Hawaii, Rempillo had no plans of joining the military, but he decided to enlist so that he could stay in the U.S.

Kim also said he would not have wanted to join the military in South Korea.

“In America, it’s all voluntary. So, all the soldiers and veterans are respected by the people,” Kim said, "but in Korea, all men have to serve as soldiers for at least two years. So, since everybody has to go, there’s really no reason to respect the other soldiers.”

ROTC cadet and architecture senior Christopher Pitfield was born in Cleveland but grew up in Southeast Asia and Canada. He has dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S. Like in South Korea, Singapore, where Pitfield lived for a period of time, has a mandatory military service. Pitfield said this law influenced his opinion that every citizen should serve their country in some way.

“I think it creates a citizen that’s more involved,” Pitfield said. “I want to get to that point where I actually feel like I’m part of the country because I’ve done certain things for it.”

Dong wants to be the bridge between Chinese and American culture in the military. Fighting through the cold temperatures, Dong is training to be in the U.S. Armed Forces. He hopes to have his own military uniform, while serving the country that has allowed him to be who he wants to be.

“I’m probably just personally more into the American way of life,” Dong said. “To me, it means to be whoever you resolve to be, to pursue whatever you want. So, in this case I’m more of an American, but sometimes I also feel like Chinese.”

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