Like most Haitian children growing up in Haiti, Maryse Jean-Pierre King’s dream was to become a physician.
But years later, King has given up the goal of making rounds in a hospital hallways. Instead she has taken up arms in the United States armed services and last month, King was inducted into the Army ROTC’s Hall of Honor.
“When you’re a little Haitian girl growing up, you don’t think ‘I’m going to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army,” she said, with a chuckle.
Lt. Col. Maryse Jean-Pierre King stood among two dozen officers inducted into the Army ROTC Hall of Honor at Lock Haven University, her alma mater in Pennsylvania. During the college military officer recruitment program recognized King for her service to the Army in the past three decades.
Three weeks later, from her office in Fort Knox, Ky., King still sounded in awe during a telephone interview.
“It felt, ‘wow,’” she said. “Thirty years earlier, if you had asked anyone if I’d be the cadet to come back, it wouldn’t have been me.
“But every step of the way, it became a challenge, and it was like ‘Oh yeah, I can do that,’” King, 51, said of the military’s tasks. “You just break down the pieces. It [ROTC] definitely made me Army strong.
The physically and mentally grueling, daunting training for Reserve Officer Training Corps students was only the first of many obstacles she’s successfully combated during a military career that’s taken her across the globe, built her confidence and given her the adventure she craved. Being one of the first female officers in leadership positions was another, as was taking on “the most dangerous jobs”, one mentor said.
The order and discipline instilled in King as a child in Haiti also drew her to the military branch all those years ago at Lock Haven. They have also kept her serving– through the intense travels, a marriage, then divorce, raising two children and one retirement, so far.
“The military is not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” she said. “And I like order, discipline and good, healthy living. Being in the military makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than you. It feels good to be part of something making history, something greater than you, something serving the world.”
King is now in charge of training thousands of young recruits selected for a month-long Leaders Training Course at Fort Knox. As the camp’s main planner, she sets the exercises to be completed, manages resources, directs staffing for the program and supervises its progress.
“It’s intense. it’s mentally and physically challenging,” King said of the summer course. “But most kids, if you expect a lot from them, they’ll do well.”
King, a mother of two teens, was always expected to succeed from early on. Born in Cap-Haitien to Jacques Jean-Pierre and Marianna Magloire, she attended Catholic school where nuns made discipline a priority and expected students to perform.
When the family moved to Brooklyn in 1970, King, then 12, lived with her father and stepmother Philomene Jean-Pierre and continued to do well, despite behavior to the contrary she saw by some children at local public schools.
“They were disruptive, disrespectful to teachers and teachers would waste half the time getting the class in order,” she recalls. “It was stuff the nuns in Haiti would never put up with.”
The disruptions motivated King to study harder. She studied, learned English and was moved to advanced placement courses where the children were more focused. She graduated from Clara Barton High School in the mid-1970s, then headed to Lock Haven to enroll in a pre-med biology program.
But, she knew she wanted adventure, to see different parts of the world besides Haiti and Brooklyn.
Her curiosity about a clean-cut, sharply dressed military man on campus one day cleared the path for that adventure. So impressed and curious was she by his appearance, King asked him about it and their conversation landed her in the ROTC program.
Back then, the Army’s motto was, ‘Join the Army, be all that you can be, and see the world,’ King recalls. As a self-described quiet, shy, sheltered and naïve girl back then, she knew she also wanted the confidence of leaders. Instead of pursuing a medical degree after graduating college, she enlisted in the Army.
That decision took her on tours in Germany, a few times, other parts of Western Europe, Russia and all around the United States. Her enlistment also provided her with an opportunity to study in Nottingham, England. Among her memorable experience was being deployed to Croatia during he Bosnia War, under NATO Command, and using French to communicate with the French officers.
King caught the eye of many superiors with her determination for taking on difficult, dangerous jobs like being the platoon leader in a special weapons unit.
Her mentor, Col. Casey Wardynski, said King is a go-getter who always takes charge and does not make any mistakes.
“She always went after the toughest jobs,” Wardynski has said about King. “She gets people to go in the direction the Army needs them to go,” he said. “She seeks out tough problems and fixes them.”
King said her mentors and supporters helped guide her way into the military, and she hasn’t looked back since. After retiring several years ago to be a stay-at-home mother, she has returned to continue serving.
“We do good work, and people don’t realize that,” King said, referring to the non-combat, humanitarian projects the military performs abroad and at home. “It’s a very interesting field if you’re interested in helping your fellow man. We do good work.
Now that she has become “mainstream,” as she put it, King said she hopes to give back to her Haitian heritage.
“Regardless of what happens in my life next, I would love to be able to go back and work with Catholic schools in Haiti.”