[Story by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jasmine Mieszala and Seaman Brandon Murray]
Seaman Duane Ezedi is a proud Coast Guardsman. He’s a member of the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard in Alexandria, Virginia, and helps represent this unique branch of the military to world leaders and dignitaries through ceremonial operations such as performing rifle routines, conducting military funeral honors, casket bearing and flag folding. He has served in the smallest branch of the United States’ armed forces for two years.
Ezedi has a stable job, a house, a car in good condition and a loving wife. While these things may seem normal to many people, these are true blessings for Ezedi. He hasn’t always enjoyed a life as comfortable as the one he has now.
Ezedi said his current lifestyle is a 180-degree turn from what it used to be.
Born in the Bahamas, a young Ezedi faced a world of poverty and hunger. His family moved to the United States when he was only 4-years-old in search of a better life with more opportunities. Despite coming to America, his family still struggled throughout his childhood.
“My mom and I came to the U.S. in 1996 with nothing,” said Ezedi. “My sisters stayed in the Bahamas with my grandparents. I was pretty little at the time, so my mom didn’t want to leave me behind.”
“We moved to Miami to live with my mom’s cousin. It didn’t work out and she kicked us out on the street. We went from shelter to shelter. Something happened to my mom at one of those shelters to make her not want to stay in one again. She doesn’t talk about it.”
“We went to our first park when I was about six or seven. I thought it was great. I played all day long. I slept in slides. I thought it was the best thing ever, but it wasn’t. We were homeless. When it rained, we had to sleep under bridges,“ said Ezedi.
Ezedi said he remembered several occasions where people driving by would stop and give him food.
“My mom told me a woman once wanted to adopt me,” said Ezedi. “We were living under a bridge when the woman approached my mother and offered her five thousand dollars to adopt me. My mom said no.”
“It was pretty tough looking back on everything that happened, not having enough to eat and not having a place to live,” said Ezedi.
Signs a military career might be the right fit for Ezedi came early on in his life. Ezedi was inspired by military history and a motivating tour of a naval vessel.
“My mom and I took a free tour of a U.S. destroyer when I was little,” said Ezedi. “I remember the sailors saying they got to travel the world and were fed every day. I was so hungry from not having enough to eat and I remember thinking, ‘there’s free food, a place to sleep and I can travel the world beyond the few blocks I know in Miami. I want to be in the military.”
Despite being enthralled by military history and his dream of joining the military, Ezedi lost focus during his adolescence.
“As I got older, my environment and living situations turned me away from my childhood dreams and down a path that was not the best,” Ezedi said.
Ezedi and his mother moved to California when his mother remarried. Ezedi was off the streets and his family was doing better, but he started getting involved in gang activity.
“My mom kicked me out several times,” said Ezedi. “She eventually let me back in the house. When she did, I remember coming home from school to my bedroom stripped of everything but my bed, my dresser and a bible on the bed.”
“I read the bible while I was grounded for two weeks. I thought it helped me change, but I still went back to hang out with old friends.”
Ezedi said his friends always came to him with questions because he always had the answers. He knew so much because of the time he spent at the library reading while he was homeless.
“One day, one of the older guys in the gang came to me and told me this lifestyle was not for me and that I did not belong there,” said Ezedi.
“He said all of the other guys in the gang would end up dying there or thrown in jail. He told me he didn’t want to see me there ever again, so I didn’t go back.”
“The next year, I started playing football in high school. That’s when things started getting better.”
Though he never got in trouble for anything gang-related, Ezedi faced legal action after he was accused of stealing a bicycle. The charges were dropped after an investigation revealed he had been at a high school football fundraiser. Because of this documentation, Ezedi was not allowed to enlist in the Army, Navy or Marine Corps.
One of Ezedi’s friends told him he shouldn’t give up on the military and to try enlisting in the Coast Guard.
“When I approached the Coast Guard, I told them everything,” said Ezedi. “My recruiter at the time, Petty Officer Second Class Adam Diaz, called his chief. I could hear the chief on the phone saying, ‘Well, he obviously didn’t do it. He’s fine.’”
“I was so happy. I sat in that chair and cried,” Ezedi said.
Ezedi went on to join the Coast Guard in 2014 and spent eight weeks in boot camp at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, New Jersey.
While Ezedi is currently enjoying the life he’s made for himself as a Coast Guardsman, it isn’t the only thing he wants to do with his life. Ezedi hopes to take the knowledge and military experience he’s gained and apply it to a bigger ambition after separating from the Coast Guard.
“My plan is to serve twenty years in the Coast Guard as an operations specialist and then become a politician back in the Bahamas, maybe even a U.S. Ambassador or Prime Minister,” said Ezedi.
Ezedi hopes to make the Bahamas a better place through politics and give the people of the islands a better chance to have what he has today.
“I want to help the world a little bit,” Ezedi said. “One place at a time.”
This article appears courtesy of USCG News and can be found in its original edition here.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.