MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Near his home in the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince, an 11-year-old boy stood outside and watched the U.S. Marines patrol the streets.
The year was 1994, and the Marines were part of Operation Uphold Democracy, a peacekeeping effort to help stabilize the country. Intrigued by the group of Marines on patrol, the boy waved to them. The Marines kindly came up to the boy, shook his hand and spoke a few words in greeting. Today, that young Haitian boy is 28-year-old Sgt. Wisner D’Meza, a U.S. citizen and fellow warrior.
“I didn’t know what they were saying to me,” said D’Meza, a rifleman and watch chief for I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), Camp Pendleton, Calif. “I saw the Marines and wanted to be just like them. I thought, ‘If I ever get the chance to go to America, I want to join the Marine Corps.’ So, I did.”
Today, D’Meza serves in a leadership role to help supervise protocol in a Command Operations Center with Master Sgt. Eric Johnson, I MEF (Fwd) current operations chief.
“D’Meza has a really important job because we use him as a watch chief, or as a fill-in whenever the senior watch officer isn’t on deck, which is a pretty big deal for a sergeant to fill that role,” Johnson said. “The biggest thing that stands out about him is his work ethic. He’s one of those Marines who doesn’t go home until the job is done.”
D’Meza grew up in the poverty-stricken coastal town of Saint Marc, and moved to Port-au-Prince with his grandmother at the when he was 9. He walked long distances to school every day, and avoided the rough neighborhoods. His mother lived and worked in the U.S. to send money to support the family, but what D’Meza wanted more than anything was to come to the States himself.
“I would go to sleep and dream about it,” D’Meza said. “I wanted to be in the Marine Corps so bad.”
D’Meza’s mother applied for him to come to the states where, D’Meza said, he was finally able to fulfill his dream. At the age of 15, D’Meza began his education at Coral Springs High School in Coral Springs, Fla., where he participated in the English Speakers for Other Languages program. There, he learned to speak English articulately and adapt to his new environment.
“It was a culture shock,” D’Meza said. “Everything was so different. The schools are nicer. The classrooms are nicer. Here, you have bathrooms. In Haiti, you have to go outside.”
D’Meza insisted he was ready for early enlistment into the Marine Corps at 17 when recruiters visited his high school.
“I took the ASVAB and tried to join right then and there, but someone had to sign for me because I was a minor at the time,” D’Meza said.
D’Meza’s family encouraged him to finish high school instead. D’Meza said he tried to join again after graduation, but was convinced by his family to attend college. D’Meza attended Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to study computer engineering.
“I knew in my heart I wanted to be a Marine,” D’Meza said. “I wanted to follow my dream and be like the Marines I saw when I was a young boy.”
D’Meza said, when he turned 20 he felt ready to make his own decisions. He decided to leave college during 2003 and went infantry.
“My first enlistment was pretty rough, especially being a grunt,” D’Meza said. “I remembered it was what I wanted since I was a kid, so I kept pushing through boot camp and got to the School of Infantry. I thought, ‘Man, this is hard.’ When I got to the fleet, it was the same thing. I just kept telling myself it’s what I wanted and I’ll get there. As time went by, it got better.”
During his time in service, D’Meza completed two deployments to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was able to interact with children like the Marines he first met.
“Coming from where I came from, I never thought I would get to travel or see anything,” D’Meza said. “Like Iraq. People just hear about those countries, but I got to go there. Everything I’ve seen in the movies, I got to do myself. It was pretty awesome.”
D’Meza committed to a second enlistment during 2008 with every intention of completing a third or more.
“I have plans to stay in until they kick me out,” D’Meza said. “I’m going to challenge myself again and again.”
After D’Meza fulfills his duties with I MEF, he hopes to go to the Marine Corps Special Operations Command.
“He’ll do well anywhere,” said Johnson. “You can put him on the drill field, recruiting duty, SOI, the fleet, in an operations section. He will do well wherever he goes.”
D’Meza said he has no future plans to return to Haiti. “I have a love-hate relationship with Haiti,” D’Meza said. “I can’t forget where I came from, but I’m never going back. I’m happy here, so I stay here.”
As D’Meza prepares to deploy to Afghanistan with I MEF (Fwd) in the spring, he hopes for the chance to interact with the children there and inspire others the way the United States Marines inspired him so many years ago.