Story by Sgt. James Mercure
When an 8-year-old Tibetan boy fled his home country with his family for religious and cultural freedom, becoming a United States Marine was the last thing on his mind.
For Lance Cpl. Tashi Dhondup, a supply warehouseman with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6, leaving his home of Lhasa, Tibet, and moving to northern India to practice his religion and learn about his culture was the first step on his journey of becoming a U.S. citizen.
“When I was 8, my family ran away from Tibet because there is no freedom of religion, no freedom to learn our own language,” Dhondup said. “We moved to India so we could study our own language and learn our culture.”
After going to a boarding school in India until the eighth grade and learning Hindi, one of the most commonly spoken Indian languages, he left for the states in search of more opportunities for his family.
“I was at school in India, and my mom told me we would have a better life in the United States,” Dhondup explained. “We moved to Jersey City, N.J., and after six months there, we moved to Connecticut. I’ve always wanted to serve in the military. I had a language teacher who taught me English. He had been in the Army but he told me to join the Marines because it was tougher and better.”
When Dhondup turned 18, he joined the Marine Corps protecting a country that was not yet his own.
“I applied to become an American citizen last March, and when I was in (Enhanced Mojave Viper) training before our deployment, my citizenship paperwork was approved,” Dhondup explained. “I took the oath for citizenship July 25, 2012, and it meant a lot to me. Because we ran from Tibet, if we had returned without citizenship, we would be put in prison. Now that I am an American, I can visit where I came from without fear, and I can return to my new home with no problems.”
Now as a citizen, when Dhondup returns home on leave, it is evident to his friends that his experiences in life and in the Marine Corps have given him an increased maturity level.
“I’m glad I’m an American now, but I do miss where I came from,” Dhondup said. “A lot of my friends complain about little things. Going home on leave and being in the uniform means more, and if they were to step in my shoes they wouldn’t have anything to complain about.”
Dhondup’s work ethic is also evident to his fellow Marines.
“He is the only supply warehouseman out here, and he was handpicked to deploy,” said Staff Sgt. Terrell Kelly, supply chief, 2nd Bn., 7th Marines, and a Detroit native. “He is one of the hardest working Marines we have in our shop. He will take an order and actually execute as if he were corporal or a sergeant. He became a Marine because he wanted to defend America, and to become a Marine and then to become a citizen is outstanding.”