NEWS | Sept. 17, 2021

Naturalized in the National Guard: Soldier honors past while looking towards her future

By Sgt. Christopher Saunders Missouri National Guard

When 2nd Lt. Juliette Sondano, 205th Military Police Battalion, Missouri Army National Guard, was a young girl, she knew little about the world outside her small community, but she knew there had to be more, and she was going to find it.
 
“I always had the most unreasonable dreams,” said Sondano. “If you look where I came from, you would never have guessed I’d be where I am today.”
 
Sondano grew up in rural Kenya. Growing up was a challenge. Her tribe “Kamba” is one of the least influential tribes in all of Kenya. The daily struggle of poverty forced Sondano to grow up very fast. Every day she would spend hours collecting water and firewood for cooking. On top of that, she had to walk three hours a day just to get to school. There were no cars or roads.
 
“I remember one of my classmates asked me if I have clothes at home, because what I wore was so worn out and patched up, you could not even tell what I was wearing,” said Sondano.
 
Even through the pain of living an isolated and poor life, Sondano said her family ties were very strong. She lived with her mother, younger brother and sister.
 
Before Sondano could finish her education, her mother could no longer continue to pay the school fees. With no other options, she began working full-time as a shepherd. Looking after their cows, goats and plowing their fields.
 
Eventually she began volunteering with local catholic missionaries that came to her village. She helped the priests and nuns with daily chores and in exchange they gave her food. Through the missionaries, Sondano started learning English, and they soon realized her potential.
 
“They began teaching me because they saw that I wanted to learn,” said Sondano. “They opened my eyes and I saw that there was a better life out there. That’s where my desire for a better life started.”
 
Sondano says she had a lot of big dreams, but the biggest was to get her education. So the missionaries helped her get a visa for the U.S. through volunteering with the church. This process proved difficult, as Sondano had no birth certificate or identification cards. Eventually she was granted a visa. Not long after that she boarded a plane destined for Washington D.C. She had no plan for when she arrived, she just knew she had to get here first.
 
Sondano says she had a lot of misconceptions about the U.S. She thought everyone spoke Swahili, and that money would not be an issue, since she was told money could be found everywhere, even in the trees. She also thought that finding a place to stay would not be an issue.
 
“In my culture we open the door to anybody,” said Sondano. “If you come to my family’s front door, we will bring you in, feed you, give you a place to sleep. We will not ask who you are, where you are from or where you are going.”
 
When Sondano walked off the plane at Ronald Reagan Washington Airport, she had no money, no plans. All she knew for certain is where she came from. Coming from a life of poverty, she had nothing to lose.
 
“One thing I credit my ancestors for is the ability to accommodate different situations, and to survive,” said Sondano. “When I pick something up, I have to make it through.”
 
Sondano wandered around the airport for an entire day with no money for food. Going without food for days was nothing new for her.
 
She noticed a mother waiting at a gate with her children. The mother was having a particularly hard time with one of her children, who was crying. When Sondano asked “Madam, do you need help?” The mother eagerly accepted her help and they began to talk. The mother eventually asked what Sodano’s plans were in the U.S., to which she replied, she was looking for work. As it turned out, the mother was looking for a nanny and asked if she would be interested in the position.
 
“I had no idea what a nanny was, but I said ok, I will be a nanny,” said Sodano.
 
After living with the family for four months, she realized it was time to start working toward her education. Every evening the mother that Sondano worked for would get on a computer. Sondano asked her what it was, having never seen a computer before. The mother explained what it was and began showing her how to use it. Sondano then began researching on her own what the next steps she needed to take on the immigration website.
 
“I found out that I had a lot of work to do in order to be able to work and go to school,” said Sondano.
 
 She began the process of applying for education and work permits throughout the country. In her research she noticed that the wait list for Missouri was much shorter. There were more opportunities for sponsorship. Eight months later, Sondano stepped off a bus in Kansas City. She immediately began looking for a catholic church. She knew if she found a church, she had help. She eventually found a church, and they agreed to help pay her rent until she began working. Shortly after Sondano began working at St. Lukes hospital as a housekeeper.
 
One day, while working, a man approached her. He asked her where she was from. They then began a conversation about her plan to get an education. Little did she know that he was the CEO of the hospital. He told her that she needed first to get her GED, and that he would sponsor her. A year later, Sondano earned her GED and was starting her patient care technician certification.
 
Sondano recalls one day in particular where two people walked into the hospital in uniform.
 
“I thought wow, these guys look sharp,” said Sondano. “I thought they were missionaries, so when I asked what kind they were, they just kind of laughed.”
 
The two Soldiers then described the type of work they do. As it turns out, they were Missouri Army National Guard Soldiers. One of them gave Sondano a card to a recruiter’s office. One thing led to another until she found herself on the way to basic training. Sondano admits that due to the language barrier, she didn’t really have a clear picture of what she was getting into.
 
The idea of discipline was something that appealed to Sondano. Though not easy, she found the training she experienced very rewarding.
 
“Wearing this uniform that I wear now, I felt like I was actually somebody, and that I belonged to something bigger than myself,” said Sondano. “I thought to myself, let’s do this.”
 
Through the Missouri National Guard Sondano was able to become a naturalized American Citizen. She also learned later that she now had a means to complete her education. Sondano graduated her Advanced Individual Training as a 92Y (Unit Supply Specialist) where she then worked her way up to Staff Sgt. Then in 2019, she commissioned as an officer in the adjutant general branch.
 
Using her education benefits, Sondano earned a bachelors in information technology, a masters in cyber security and is currently working on her PHD in computer science. Soon, Sondano will be celebrating 12 years in the Guard. Her short-term goal is to work in Cyber Security or military intelligence with the Guard. She plans on staying in the Guard as long as she can.
 
Sondano was able to help her family by paying for the education of both her siblings. Not only through their primary school, but college as well. She has also paid for the education of numerous other children from her local village in Kenya.
 
Despite where she is now, she has never forgotten where she came from.
 
“My grandmother used to tell me stories of what my ancestors went through to get me where I am,” said Sondano. “Whenever I go back to Kenya I kiss the ground, because in that ground is the blood of my ancestors who fought so I could be where I am today, so that I could be free.”
 
Sondano says she strives to create a legacy by helping as many people as she can.