Sitting in the waiting area of the administration office of Headquarters and Service Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, you often hear someone laughing. Not just any laugh, a strong laugh, and it’s a clear reflection of the small curly-haired Jamaican woman who wields it.
“So many times you are judged for your exterior and don’t get a chance to really show people what you can do,” said Jeannette E. Powell-Campbell, assistant adjutant, HqSvcBn, MarForPac, and retired master gunnery sergeant.
As a young woman, she may have surprised friends and family when she enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1974. The recruiters pitched the usual: an exciting job with steady pay and travel.
Powell-Campbell went to boot camp at Parris Island like every woman who has embarked on the journey to become an enlisted Marine. During the next 29 years, she was stationed in Spain, Japan and, on multiple tours, Hawaii, where she met her husband, Ian, and eventually finished her active-duty career.
But before she retired, she and her husband embarked on a different journey, one of parenthood.
“I thought there were children in the world who needed help,” Powell-Campbell said. So they began the process involved in adopting a child from Cambodia.
After all the required paperwork was filled out and background checks were completed, it was time to decide who would be their son. They received the pictures of two children, but could only choose one.
“I’m sitting at my computer waiting for this file to open, and it opens very slowly from the top down and just scrolls down very slowly,” Powell-Campbell said. “I see this little boy with these huge eyes. [He] looked like he was just about to cry or just stopped crying.”
She had fallen in love with the little boy in the first picture she saw.
After adopting her first son, Sovann, in 2000, she decided to return to Cambodia in 2001 to adopt another child, this time her daughter, Leah.
It was during this visit when another pair of big eyes captured her heart.
“He was in my daughter’s room and he was just standing there in his crib, staring out at the world with big sad eyes,” she said.
Powell-Campbell decided she was going to do whatever it took to return to Cambodia to bring her third child to the states.
“Even when they closed adoptions from Cambodia, we fought to get that child here,” she said. “We wrote to Congress … did things on the Web, until they said we could get him.”
By the time she was able to bring her newest son, Khean, from Cambodia in 2002, he was old enough to have adjusted to his surroundings and learn the Cambodian language. She said they were able to persevere and help Khean adjust to his new family and home with love and patience.
At work, Powell-Campbell sits surrounded by photos and crafts that reflect her motherhood. Homemade drawings and colored cutouts hang on the walls, all continuously reminding her of the three jewels she brought to the U.S.
Her experiences as a Jamaican immigrant help influence the values she teaches her children. Growing up, people made judgments based on her accent and appearance, so she tries to teach her children to accept everyone for who they are.
She and her husband continue to stay in touch with their children’s families in Cambodia. They help them with donations and financial support when they can. They also spent this past Christmas in Cambodia in order for the children to get to know their birth families.
Powell-Campbell realizes the impact she has had on her three children, but she also understands the impact they have had on her life.
“They have given so much to me,” Powell-Campbell said. “No matter what, there are three people in this world who love me and accept me for who and what I am.”