Missionary turned sniper translates humanity in East Timor

15 Jun 2007 | Sgt. Eric McLeroy 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit

Sergeant Gary Jorgensen towered over the locals who crowded the worksite here. At midday, his sun-splashed face reddened and suffered the disadvantages of fair complexion, traits of his family tree whose roots gripped the soil of Denmark. The local community leader was unaffected by the tropical sun. His skin was tan and leathery, less from age than living in a tropical setting in the South Pacific.Jorgensen, 25, stood close to the man and listened as he explained the community?s concerns in mixed Portuguese. The Marines and Sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) and Boxer Amphibious Ready Group were in Dili to transform an abandoned radio station into the Dili Community Youth Center April 9-11.A scout sniper by trade, Jorgensen normally lurks in the shadows, observing the enemy from great distances; however, at the project site, local children and community leaders surrounded him, eager to hear him speak on behalf of the Marines and Sailors. The unrelenting sun heated the lush, green vegetation that overwhelmed the grounds and caused thick waves of humidity to rise like smoke from a fire. He was exhausted from merely walking. He was used to the dry, dusty heat of Utah where he grew up hiking, hunting and camping. But as he wiped the sheets of sweat from his freckled brow, he remembered the Sao Paulo, South Mission in Brazil.Raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he answered his call to missionary work in Brazil in 1995, a year after high school. His routinely squinted eyes opened wide in favor of talking about his faith rather than his many accomplishments, including the Marine Corps? annual rifle squad competitions. "I felt like I was on my mission again. The only purpose I had here was to help people," he said with an audible sigh of relief. "We weren?t an occupying or peacekeeping force. We were a group of people helping another group of people." For two years in Brazil, he studied and preached his faith but also committed himself to mastering one of Brazil?s native languages, Portuguese. While there, he learned all aspects of the language including slang that allowed him to convey his personal feelings. His ability to communicate his feelings, despite their obvious chasm of differences, earned the people?s trust in Brazil and East Timor, he said."In Brazil, I had to enter another person?s house and convey to them that I was there to make their lives better. I had to develop the skills to speak (their language) comfortably in front of a person or group," he said. "In East Timor, we had to be diplomatic and earn the chief?s trust. Being able to speak his language was a huge asset just like in Brazil."Having Jorgensen at the site negated the need for a United Nations or civilian translator, and allowed the site commander, Maj. Vincent Lumalcuri, to communicate with the locals without fear that his message would be misinterpreted."We were self sufficient and got to know the people and made them our friends," Jorgensen explained. "Having a Marine able to speak the language had a lot to do with that. I think it helped us."Throughout the three-day construction project, Jorgensen spoke to the local leaders and laborers about the MEU(SOC)/BARG?s involvement and concern for East Timor?s successful transformation to a free country. He talked to the men over lunch and through his trademark exuberance, made a personal connection with them. But his talents weren?t limited to diplomacy.He was the conduit for professional dialogue between local engineers and Navy Seabees, a detachment assigned to United States Support Group East Timor. The community center needed electrical wires installed, and Jorgensen was there translating between the two parties. By the end of each day, even his thoughts were in Portuguese, he said affectionately."I look at it as a skill, not my number one priority, but a skill that I don?t want to lose," Jorgensen said of being bilingual. "It was mutually beneficial for the Marine Corps and myself. The MEU needed a translator and I could practice the language."Battalion Landing Team 2/1?s intelligence officer learned of Jorgensen?s language skills in the same manner as other battalions. Each unit maintains a roster of Marines who are bilingual and description of their second language. This practice provides small unit commanders another asset when deployed to foreign countries on missions ranging from humanitarian assistance to reconnaissance.For BLT 2/1, Jorgensen and Cpl. David Zinn were the only Marines who spoke Portuguese, and both were at the project site. When the project ended, Jorgensen returned to the ship, feeling good about what he accomplished and those he met. He sent an email to JaNae, his wife of two years, expressing the joy the experience had brought him. "She was happy that we helped the people, and I was able to feel the same as when I was a missionary," Jorgensen said. "When I saw the community center go up, I had the same feeling I had when I saw families baptized in Brazil. I haven?t been able to feel like that in a long time."

Marine Corps News

Colonel Thomas M. Siverts
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Colonel Tom Siverts is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1989. He achieved a commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program following his graduation from the University of Virginia in May 1999. Colonel Siverts has deployed in support of Operations DESERT SHIELD, DESERT STORM, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His other operational deployments include serving with Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 2/8, 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU); BLT 3/8, 22d MEU; BLT 2/8, 26th MEU, and Task Force 61/2.

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Lieutenant Col. Steven M. Sprigg
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LtCol Sprigg was born in Parkersburg, WV. LtCol Sprigg enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in September 2004 and recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC. LtCol Sprigg was selected for the Enlisted Commissioning Program and commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in March 2008. He was designated a Naval Aviator in February 2011 and reported to HMLAT-303 for training as an AH-1W pilot. LtCol Sprigg is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Camp Pendleton, California.

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Sergeant Major Travis L. DeBarr
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Sergeant Major DeBarrĀ enlisted in the Marine Corps and reported to MCRD San Diego, CA, for recruit training in October 1994.Staff Sergeant DeBarr completed two combat tours in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2005 to April 2006 and again form March 2007 to September 2007. While serving with 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, First Sergeant DeBarr completed one combat deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from October 2012 to May 2013. Sergeant Major DeBarr currently serves as the Sergeant Major for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

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