Strength, perseverance, and perspective

Chaldeans in the Armed Forces

By Monique Mansour

Sara Murphy

Sara Murphy

From a young age, Sara Murphy knew that she wanted to be independent. “I wanted to go to college, and I was determined to find a way to pay for it,” said Murphy. Murphy enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2009, and served until 2013, earning the rank and title of Sergeant. She ultimately went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in Health Administration from Baker College in Auburn Hills. She graduated in June of 2016.

While serving in the Marine Corps, Murphy was involved in various humanitarian efforts. One was in Okinawa, Japan, where she was stationed for two years. She assisted with Japan Tsunami relief in 2011 with Operation Tomodachi. It was also there, in Japan, where she met her future husband, Cody Murphy, who was also serving in the Marine Corps at the time.

Murphy also aided with humanitarian efforts in the Philippines and Thailand. She helped to build desks, bookshelves, and provided school supplies to teachers and students. “There is so much poverty in the world that we’re unaware of as Americans,” said Murphy. “It was an eye-opening experience, for sure.”

Murphy amassed many awards, recognitions, and honors during her time in the Marine Corps, such as the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Humanitarian Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award Navy, and the Marine Corps Achievement Medal.

“My time in the Marine Corps taught me that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. You can start anywhere and work your way up. I also learned that you can find family anywhere…it’s not something that you’re just born into,” said Murphy.

Cody Murphy, Cody Murphy Jr., and Sara Murphy

Cody Murphy, Cody Murphy Jr., and Sara Murphy

Murphy and her husband welcomed their son, Cody Murphy Jr. in January 2017. “He is such a blessing,” said Murphy. They happily reside in Sterling Heights.

Murphy is one of three Chaldean women being profiled for their service to this country.

Jennifer Zakaria served in the Air Force from 2008 until 2011. She was born in Detroit, and raised in Sterling Heights. “Joining the Air Force was the best decision I ever made,” said Zakaria.

Jennifer Zakaria

Jennifer Zakaria

The armed forces had always been of interest to her since childhood. “I loved the idea of helping people and serving my country while doing it. It seemed like such a strong thing to do.”

Zakaria joined the branch as a Commission Officer, as she had obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from St. Xavier University in Chicago prior to joining. Soon after, she participated in Commissioner Officer training in Montgomery, Alabama. “The people I was with there and the people I met…it immediately felt like family. Everyone welcomed me with open arms.”

After training, she was stationed in Las Vegas, Nevada. “I listed Las Vegas as my number one choice, as I knew there was a Chaldean community there and a Chaldean Church there. I thought it would be a comfort to know that I could go back to my roots in a new environment.”

Jennifer Zakaria meets President Obama.

Jennifer Zakaria meets President Obama.

At first, her family wasn’t exactly sure what she was getting into. “It was an adjustment for everyone,” said Zakaria. “But ultimately, my family became very supportive and proud of me.”

Zakaria was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 for seven months. “You receive a lot of training before deployment, but let me just tell you…no amount of training can prepare you for that kind of experience,” said Zakaria.

Though there were many trying times during her deployment and although there were many human atrocities that she witnessed, there was one particular momentous occasion that Zakaria will never forget. “President Obama came to my hospital in Afghanistan. I shook hands with him and heard him speak. It was a wonderful memory that I’ll always hold onto.”

Zakaria worked her way up to the rank of Captain before leaving the Air Force after three years on Honorable Discharge. “After leaving, I knew I wanted to continue in the nursing field, and my Afghanistan experience motivated me to continuing working to serve veterans.” Zakaria served as a nurse at the Portland VA Hospital for two years before moving to Colorado.

She currently works as an Intensive Care Nurse at the Denver VA Hospital, and has been in her current position for four years. “I’m really happy with the way things have turned out,” said Zakaria. “And I love what I do.” 

L to R:  Sara Sarigiannis, Attra Shamoon, Samuel Youkhana, Andrew Youkhana, Anita Youkhana, Athina Sarigiannis

L to R: Sara Sarigiannis, Attra Shamoon, Samuel Youkhana, Andrew Youkhana, Anita Youkhana, Athina Sarigiannis

Athina Sarigiannis grew up in Sterling Heights and enlisted as a sailor in the Navy straight away at 18 years old. She’s 19 at the moment. “I wanted to push myself to do something outside of my comfort zone, and I also found the college benefits to be very attractive,” said Sarigiannis. “I’m really excited to enroll in college in the future.”

Sarigiannis, who is half Chaldean and half Greek, completed boot camp in Chicago and completed two rounds of schooling there before being stationed to Virginia since this past January, where she is completing more training. 

“Boot camp was a really difficult experience for me, but I’m grateful for it. It taught me that life is all about what you make of it. Perspective is really important; as are the people you surround yourself with. I’ve met some incredible people since I’ve enlisted.”

Sarigiannis has had nothing but support from her family. “They’re really proud of me and it’s nice because my cousin, who is also Chaldean, enlisted at the same time as me, although I didn’t know it at the time. We now have this experience to bond over, too.”