SOUTH KOREA --
Anyone wearing a military uniform is familiar with saying goodbye to loved ones. Of the few that know this feeling, fewer still have experienced walking away from everything they know and starting over.
In 2016, Lance Cpl. Tyashaa Kelman left everything behind for a better future. The supply administration and operations specialist with III Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion was 16 years old when she moved from her birth country to the United States. As a Marine, Kelman reminisces on her journey and shares how her culture and experiences shaped who she is today.
“Guyana will always be my first home,” said the 22-year-old. “It’s the place that helped nurture and shape me into the person I am today. It will always have a special place in my heart.”
Kelman, now a young woman living on her own, recalls fondly her homelife as a child. She remembers fulfillment and love in her home.
“As a child I was aware that my family wasn’t as rich as the other families in my neighborhood,” said Kelman. “Nonetheless, my mother made sure I had a great childhood.”
With a great childhood comes great memories like favorite places and foods. For Kelman, there is no contest for the home-cooked dishes at the top of her list.
Kelman explained how Guyana has “a wide range of dishes with an added modern and Caribbean twist.”
“Some of my favorite dishes include cook-up rice (a bean and meat-based dish), chicken foot soup, roti and dhal,” she added.
Kelman identifies as African American and dishes like cook-up rice, although simple, keep her grounded to her African roots. Her home country has strong ties to African culture and history.
“Being in the Marines has brought me joys and sorrows, pain and laughter, it’s afforded opportunities I would’ve never experienced if I were still a civilian." Lance Cpl. Tyashaa Kelman, supply administration and operations specialist with III MEF Support Battalion
According to the Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook website, the British possessed Guyana in 1815. The site notes that the African population was predominantly enslaved or at least disenfranchised. After full emancipation in 1838, the Africans abandoned the plantations to become independent peasantry or town dwellers.
Today, the Afro-Guyanese make up about three-tenths of the country’s population, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
On the other hand, New York City’s metropolitan area has the largest Black population of metropolitan areas in the United States, including approximately 3.8 million people. This population makes up eight percent of the entire U.S. population, according to the Pew Research Center. Kelman’s transition from Georgetown, her home city, to Brooklyn was somewhat smoother, as she found herself connecting with other Black Caribbean natives in her community.
“In Brooklyn, there’s a lot of Caribbean people: Jamaicans, Trinidadians, and Haitians,” said the Erasmus High School graduate. “So school was fun because we all had similar backgrounds growing up.”
She was able to fit in and thrive in her new life with a diverse group of friends. Kelman worked to adjust to the American school system at first, but eventually, she overcame all the obstacles and became an honor graduate at her new school.
“The high schools in Guyana are different from the ones in America, so I had to repeat a grade because I didn’t have classes there like American History; I studied Caribbean History,” said Kelman. “Back home, school focuses on different streams based off the student’s future profession and you only do school based off that.”
Kelman’s career of interest was business in her former school, so her curriculum focused on financial classes. Nevertheless, Kelman braved school in the United States. She came to appreciate its process and the institution.
“I had a good time in school actually, I was an honor student,” said Kelman, “I even got an award from the New York State Department Minister of Education. I was at the top of the school.”
Kelman credits her childhood schooling for her academic success in America. But her former school was not the only agent responsible for Kelman’s academic success. Her family has always been and continues to be her strongest source of support and inspiration.
“Growing up, my mother would tell me the story of how my aunt was the nurse on call who helped deliver me,” said Kelman. “When I would visit my aunt, she would tell me all the stories of things she got to do and people she helped. That has always stuck with me.”
The desire to serve and help those in need set in motion a series of events that led to a decision that would forever change Kelman’s life: joining the Marine Corps. She recognized the benefits of becoming a member of the military, but she knew she would have to pave the way herself.
“The two [benefits] that stood out to me were the opportunity to travel, both locally and internationally, and free to low-cost college,” said Kelman.
Following high school, Kelman attended college while awaiting her date to leave for recruit training. She was excited about the experiences and exotic adventures the Marine Corps had in store for her.
“I take much pride in the fact that I was the first person in my family to take that step,” said Kelman. “The transition from a civilian to a Marine, from a sheltered upbringing to a combative way of life was a difficult one.”
Kelman’s biggest obstacle in bootcamp was water survival training — a graduation requirement for all Marine recruits. She admits that she did not prioritize physical training, such as swimming, as it was not a requirement in Guyanese schools.
“I had no endurance,” said Kelman. “Then I got disqualified during swim.”
Kelman’s struggle with swimming was not just a lack of training; it stemmed from her upbringing and prior experiences.
“My mother had a fear of water and because of that she passed it on to me,” said Kelman, “If she wasn’t going near water, I wasn’t going near water. It was just how I grew up.”
The incompletion of the swimming requirement meant Kelman would be reassigned to a more junior platoon, so she could reattempt the failed event. She found herself with all new female recruits, as the only African American. This did not alter Kelman’s resolve to graduate and she started helping the earlier phase recruits.
Photo by Lance Cpl. Kira Ducato
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Tyshaa Kelman, a, Brooklyn, New York native and a supply administrator with III Marine Expeditionary Force Support Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group shares her journey through life and the Marine Corps on U.S. Army Garrison Casey, South Korea, Feb. 13, 2023. The Erasmus High School graduate participated in Bushido Strike 23 in the Republic of Korea. III MSB is conducting Bushido Strike 23, which comprises training events including a Marine Corps Combat Readiness Evaluation in South Korea to validate its mission essential tasks of providing combat service support, security and administrative services to III Marine Expeditionary Force.
“I was further in the cycle than them, so I had my boots bloused and extra knowledge,” said Kelman. “I did their hair slick so it wouldn’t move and in exchange, I would get my sleeves rolled tight because I wasn’t going anywhere without tight sleeves.”
Kelman’s platoon kept her on track, and she treaded tirelessly until she completed her water survival training. Recruit training would not be Kelman‘s only struggle. The Marine Corps had much more in store for this first-generation military member, starting with being stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
“I knew I was coming to Japan back in my schoolhouse, so I brushed up on the basics before leaving,” said Kelman. “The tricky part for me was learning how to use chopsticks. To this day, almost three years later, if there’s an option for a spoon, I’ll take it.”
Although brushing up on the basics helped Kelman get ready for Okinawa, nothing could have prepared her for what she — and the rest of the world — would face next.
“As soon as I got to island, COVID-19 shut down everything,” said Kelman. “For the first two years on island, I couldn’t go out to see much of anything, but I learned to become more of a homebody and enjoy being inside.”
Kelman’s open-minded instinct encouraged her to work and spend free time in her room where she filled long, quiet moments with movies, TV shows and books during the global pandemic.
Ahead of her permanent change of station from Okinawa to Parris Island, South Carolina, Kelman opted to go to South Korea as her last exercise with III MSB. On Feb. 23, Kelman, along with other Marines and sailors with III MSB, completed Bushido Strike 2023, a unit level training at Camp Casey in South Korea. This training pushed Kelman out of her comfort zone, so she grew a great deal from the experience.
“Before this week, I had never operated the M18 or any weapon other than the M16, M4 and M240 machine gun,” said Kelman. “The M18 pistol was an exciting challenge.”
The experience and training in South Korea will remain with the young Marine throughout her career. The frigid South Korean temperatures reminded Kelman of New York, while the language reminded her of Okinawa.
“To me, South Korea seemed very similar to Japan,” said Kelman. “The most challenging part is the change in language compared to Japanese, which has shorter pronunciations.”
As her training and time in South Korea nears its end, Kelman shifts her focus back to Okinawa and the future. After the Marine Corps, Kelman plans to follow in her aunt’s footsteps and earn a degree in the medical field. She ultimately wants to work as a travel nurse where she can take care of those in need.
Although Kelman’s time in Japan is nearly done, her journey is far from over. From Guyana to Brooklyn, from the island of Okinawa to the Korean peninsula, every place is a new home, a new place to thrive.
“I wouldn’t change my experience,” said Kelman. “Being in the Marines has brought me joys and sorrows, pain and laughter, it’s afforded opportunities I would’ve never experienced if I were still a civilian. I’ve met and trained with so many people over the last three years and I’ve even come to consider some of them family.”
Home is where the heart is. For Kelman, for today, her heart lives among United States Marines.