GORKHA, Nepal - When the opportunity arose for engineers to join a team of U.S. Armed Forces traveling to Nepal to provide humanitarian aid to the local Nepali people, U.S. Army Sgt. Rajeev Neupane readily volunteered. Pacific Angel 17-4 in Gorkha, Nepal allowed Neupane to return home and give back to his people.
"There are not many people who can say they've come back home to do something good for their own people, and especially as a U.S. soldier," said Neupane, 523rd Engineer Support Company, 130th Engineer Brigade interior electrician.
For Neupane the journey that led him to where he is now started at a very young age.
"I was born in a small town on the southern border towards India and my father was a farmer," said Neupane. "I have a big family with five sisters and one brother. As I was growing up my father wanted me to get a better education in a bigger city."
In second grade, Neupane moved to the city of Chitwan to live with his older sister and her children. After tenth grade, he began focusing on science in preparation for medical school when he received the news that his father was sick.
"I decided to bring him to Katmandu to start taking him to different hospitals to diagnose what was wrong with him and finally, after six months the doctors explained he had lung cancer," Neupane said. "After a couple months he passed away."
Realizing medical school had now become too expensive he decided to apply for a Visa and moved to the U.S. where he overcame a whole new set of challenges.
"It took me months to go to a McDonald's because the menu seemed too fancy and Walmart was too big for me," Neupane said. "The first time I went to McDonalds I took a picture with the big 'M' in front of the restaurant and it was really exciting for me. My first visit to Walmart ended up being Black Friday where I bought a t-shirt for 10 dollars and I thought that was the best thing that ever happened to me."
After graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in civil engineering, he learned about a program called the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). MAVNI allows certain non-citizens who are legally in the U.S. to join the military if they hold certain critical skills such as medical knowledge or expertise in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds.
Neupane being born and raised in Nepal afforded him the opportunity to join the U.S. Army in 2014 and use his degree to become an electrician.
As one of the engineers responsible for providing infrastructure repairs in Gokha during PACANGEL 17-4, he was able to tap into his language skillset.
"At times the language barrier could be a bit of a challenge for us," said Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Russell, 647th Civil Engineer Squadron site supervisor for PACANGEL 17-4. "We were out there working with U.S. service members as well as Nepali service members, so having someone who spoke both languages helped out immensely."
Neupane last visited Nepal in 2015, but coming back as part of PACANGEL was quite a different experience.
"It's absolutely amazing," Neupane said. "For me, it's something different than what everyone else may feel. Nepali parents are telling their children to be more like me, and for me to be seen as a role model is incredible."