FORWARD OPERATING BASE SABIT QADAM, Afghanistan – When an 8-year-old boy fled Tibet with his family for religious and cultural freedom, becoming a United States Marine was the last thing on his mind.
For Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tashi Dhondup, leaving 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,” said the supply warehouseman with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, Regimental Combat Team 6. “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 United 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 to protect 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,” he said.
“I took the oath for citizenship July 25, 2012, and it meant a lot to me,” Dhondup said. “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.”
When he 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, Dhondup said.
“I’m glad I’m an American now, but I do miss where I came from,” he added. “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 evident to his fellow Marines.
“He is the only supply warehouseman out here, and he was handpicked to deploy,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Terrell Kelly, the battalion’s supply chief. “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.”