Refugee Faces Adversity on Path to Becoming a Navy Recruiter

Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Barn Henderson, August 16, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo/Benjamin Dobbs)
Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Barn Henderson, August 16, 2019. (U.S. Navy photo/Benjamin Dobbs)

The phrase "Thank you for your service" is something many members in the Armed Forces are used to hearing. For Boatswain's Mate 1st Class Barn Henderson, a recruiter assigned to Navy Talent Acquisition Group (NTAG) Pittsburgh, service is everything, and no thanks is needed.

Henderson's path to becoming a sailor was marked with adversity. He was born in Careysburg, Liberia, in a village called Franktown. Being born in Liberia, one of the world's poorest countries, meant Henderson would face violence at an early age.

"In 1990 we had a civil war that lasted for 14 years," said Henderson. "I could have been killed during the war. Most of my friends died during the war. In the civil war we lost over 250,000 people."

Henderson left Liberia and relocated to his second country, Ivory Coast in West Africa, where he would spend four years as a refugee.

"I went through a lot," Henderson said. "I suffered and some days didn't have any food, but I still made it my duty to go to school."

Henderson graduated from Saint Jean's Catholic High School in Danane, Ivory Coast, and in 2001, via the UN Refugee Program, he came to the United States and his life changed forever.

"Before getting on the plane I had a dream," Henderson said. "I dreamed about me being in the United States. It was my first flight so when I got on that plane I didn't sleep at all for the 16-hour flight."

Henderson's flight arrived in New York on the morning of Valentine's Day.

"It was a little dark outside, but New York was bright," said Henderson. "I was like wow. I thought I was in heaven, seriously I cried. The World Trade Center was still there. It was so beautiful and that brightened my world. I was so happy."

Henderson eventually settled in Chicago where he would meet his recruiter and begin working toward his new goals.

"When I came here I didn't have money to go to a university and a recruiter told me how I could change my life and go to school for free on the G.I. Bill," Henderson said. "That just blew my mind that I could go to college for free, because education is the key. Right now I'm working on my Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice."

Henderson volunteers his time in an array of activities in the Pittsburgh area such as assisting disabled and hospitalized veterans during an annual boat cruise, and being a regular member of color guard teams for special events.

"I love to volunteer," said Henderson. "I always loved to help people. That is my whole life, to serve and help people. I have been the one in need, but now I am not in need. Life is good if you can help someone else. The Navy changed my life. It's through the Navy I have this platform."

Henderson uses his platform, to extend his service to others outside of U.S. borders. Henderson is the executive director and founder of the not-for-profit organization, Change for Liberian Children and Youth (CLCY). CLCY supports the learning and development of underprivileged children. Their services include providing scholarships, financial aid, school supplies, skill training, health awareness and clean drinking water.

Henderson led fundraising efforts and generated over $60,000 to build the Freeman-ta Lutheran church in his village. That was his first of several major projects. His goal is to help build a computer lab and library in Careysburg. He took leave and returned to Liberia in October, where he spoke at CLCY's one-year anniversary celebration. In addition to construction efforts, CLCY is engaged in providing basic life necessities.

"When you go to Liberia, you see poverty," Henderson said. "When I go there I always cry. People are suffering. People live on a dollar a day. Even to get water, you have to beg to get water to drink. We provide water for people to drink because in Liberia water is so scarce they drink from the dirty water. They go and take the water and boil it just so they can drink and they have to travel three or four miles. We started to help them dig wells and we provided water, all through our organization."

Though the living conditions of his home village saddens Henderson, he is happy to be a part of the solution. He keeps a positive attitude, stays humble, and never forgets, or lets others forget, where he has come from.

"For the future sailors, I encourage them and I'm always motivated," said Henderson. "I never frown in front of my future Sailors ... When I stand before them, I introduce myself. I'm Petty Officer Barn Henderson born and raised in Liberia and I came here as a refugee."

Navy Recruiting Command consists of a command headquarters, three Navy Recruiting Regions, 16 Navy Recruiting Districts and 10 Navy Talent Acquisition Groups that serve more than 1,330 recruiting stations across the world. Their combined goal is to attract the highest quality candidates to assure the ongoing success of America's Navy.

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