AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Wilson Jumelles grew up on a small island in the Caribbean called the Dominican Republic in an even smaller city called Santiago. His home life was steeped in traditional Hispanic cooking and surrounded by tropical fruit and foods. It led him to become an avid cook. It also led him to want to explore the world outside his island.
Jumelles is a 24-year-old food services specialist with Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, a unit that deployed here conducting stability and security operations as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
His unit is part of the ground combat element in the Al Anbar Province, an extremely volatile region in Iraq. Just a few years ago, he never would have expected to be leaving his homeland and serving the people of his new country. Now, the Queens, N.Y native, who attended New Town High School for the class of 2001, serves thousands of troops, civilians and officers who dine here in the mess hall.
Jumelles, who had moved to New York City to go to high school, enlisted in the Marine Corps initially as a water purification specialist. He made clean drinking and washing water for troops in the field. Early in his enlistment, though, he changed jobs to follow his inspiration.
“I switched because cooking is something I’ve always specialized in – especially lasagna,” said Jumelles. “I moved to New York City to go to high school and make a life for myself in America.”
Graduating from high school, his interest in people and other cultures inspired him to seek a degree in the humanities at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, N.Y – 10 minutes from Times Square. His career path was going well, having moved from the simple life in the Caribbean to what some consider the epicenter of the world in NYC; but there was something missing for him.
“When I studied at LaGuardia, I enjoyed learning about the social sciences and humanities, but I quickly found out that I wanted to join the Marines and try to follow a profession in the armed services. The benefits are great and I’m getting paid to learn new skills.”
Even though he isn’t cooking here, because a civilian company has contracted the food services to the division, he is the health inspector and is involved in the administrative portion of the food services division. He deals in sanitation, food shipments and orders as well as the inspection of the workers’ food handling procedures.
“Not only do I get to learn another part of the food services profession, other than cooking, but I get to do it in a foreign country,” said Jumelles. “It’s great to learn about other cultures because in America, we seem to take things for granted easily. Here we learn that the people live with what they have. It makes me see that we’re selfish at times.”
While Jumelles loves his job here, he is thinking of changing jobs yet another time. His interests abound and he wants to take advantage of his ability to play the clarinet.
“I used to play in an orchestra back in high school,” said Jumelles. “Who knows, I might try out for the Marine Corps Band. “But in the meantime, I’ll be happy taking care of business in the mess hall and making sure everyone has a good dining experience while we’re deployed.”