Tue | Oct 19, 2021

Zumjay celebrates moving up another rank in US Army

Says enlisting has been a test of patience and tolerance for him and his family

Published:Tuesday | September 14, 2021 | 12:09 AMStephanie Lyew/Gleaner Writer -
Rohan Stephens, known by his moniker Zumjay, stands at attention during a pinning ceremony over the weekend.
Rohan Stephens, known by his moniker Zumjay, stands at attention during a pinning ceremony over the weekend.
Rohan Stephens (right), popularly known as dancehall entertainer Zumjay, receives his Sergeant First Class pin from his wife Aviesha last Saturday.
Rohan Stephens (right), popularly known as dancehall entertainer Zumjay, receives his Sergeant First Class pin from his wife Aviesha last Saturday.

Thirteen years ago, dancehall recording artiste Zumjay embarked on a mission that he calls “the most important decision I made in my whole life”: he enlisted in the US Army.

On Saturday, while the world was reflecting on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the entertainer, whose birth name is Rohan Stephens, received his new rank insignia of Sergeant First Class/E-7, which he described as a major accomplishment. Looking back at when he first joined the army, Zumjay says he had already shown promise, having received Private E2 (or PV2) instead of the most junior rank of Private One/E-1 (or PV1).

He explained: “I had to complete a practical test that encompassed a two-mile run and routine exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups in the time of two minutes. Because I didn’t have a tertiary education then, only a high school diploma, that was the highest rank I could join as. Maybe if I had my tertiary education and degrees, I could have entered as Private First Class.”

A tale as old as time

That was 2008. Once he graduated basic training in December, Zumjay was promoted to Private First Class six months after enlisting, then was deployed overseas to the Middle East in September 2009. It is a tale as old as time - soldier’s leaving their homes and families. This is especially true for the dancehall recording artiste, whose wife, Aviesha Stephens, remained in New York while he assumed active duty. She had the honour of pinning the insignia on her husband during the ceremony.

“I have to commend my wife. She is very patient; she learnt a lot of patience. I know my greatest lessons have been patience and tolerance, but it was the same for her – watching me leave for basic training in a different state then heading to another country right after and being stationed in a different state while she is in New York raising our daughter,” Zumjay shared.

“We were a newly married couple, and we had to make a lot of sacrifices together, testing us constantly. All of these times I was travelling, she had our daughter to raise, and for me, it was hard each time. I’d see them on holidays and long weekends when they’d come to me, or I’d get a chance to fly to see them then being separated all over again,” he continued.

Zumjay further explained that while completing his tour of duty, he graduated college and earned both a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a Master’s degree in criminal justice. He also challenged himself by enrolling in the US Air Force in 2017 before returning to the reserves in 2019.

We are overachievers

“As Jamaicans, we are overachievers, (so) anything we do, we excel. I got promoted to the rank of Specialist before I hit my two years in the rank of Private First Class, six months before to be exact. And I have been told that [if I] hadn’t gone over to the Air Force in 2017, I would have made it to my current rank, but I had wanted a change and felt the need to spread my wings, to see what my options were and test my limits in a different branch of service.”

With all these decisions, Zumjay shared that his wife has been the backbone of his family, and without her, he could not do it. He also revealed that he did not begin bonding with his daughter until she was around six years old.

“She had a good job in New York. I didn’t wish for my professional decisions to uproot Aviesha. She is my queen right here. She raised our daughter until I, basically, came off active duty and into the reserves when I said it was time to be with my family 100 per cent. My daughter is 13 years old now. Also, my son was born during all of that, in 2013,” he said. “That’s why I said the military has taught me patience, and my education through my service has helped me to funnel the part of my brain where I look at people’s behaviour in a different way than I would. What I mean by that is we meet persons from different walks of life along the way, and I guess back in my dancehall days when I was much younger, I would react to certain things maybe more aggressively. Being in the US Army has taught me to observe from a different angle.”

Zumjay says he knows it will require a lot of experience and schooling in his new rank of Sergeant First Class to move up another rank, but with the support of his family, he knows he can achieve more.

“When you have a dream and know the journey, it is possible. One thing I noticed when I migrated to the US is certification helps an individual to move up the ladder and set yourself apart from the people you are competing with. The advice I have for anyone making a life-changing decision, whether or not it is similar to the one I made, is to follow through the necessary steps to your dream,” he said.

“Look at a story like mine and of many others, coming from the ghetto. Not because you are from there means that you have to stay there for the rest of your life or that is all it is going to amount to. This was a huge stepping stone for my life. It has impacted my life in numerous ways, and still, it has opened so many doors. It’s been 13 years. I can’t believe it went by so quickly. In seven years, it will be 20 years, and I will be paid for life, and I can feel good knowing my family will be okay,” Zumjay continued.