TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Nkundimana Binene Claude, a rifleman with 2nd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, commissioned as a 2nd Lt. after leading his squad through a kinetic live fire range at the Marine Air Ground Combat Training Center here.
Covered in sweat and motivation, Claude, a native of Democratic Republic of Congo and naturalized U.S. citizen, recited his oath of office as he came off the range to attain his lifelong goal of becoming a U.S. Marine Corps officer.
Claude delayed his commissioning ceremony to run Range 400, an event that brings over 300 Marines together to provide support for the maneuver of a single company to assault multiple positions, one last time with his squad at Integrated Training Exercise [ITX] 4-23. 1st Lt. Conor Patterson, his platoon commander from Alpha Company describes Claude as, “An undeniable leader within Second Platoon, always leading from the front in all that he does and displays all it means to be an infantryman in the Marine Corps”.
Claude was born in 1996 to Philemon Sebihendo Gasengo, a chief of the Banyamulenge Tribe of the DRC, located in the eastern part of the Congo, specifically the Kivu region. To Claude’s friends and family, he was known as Dani Gasengo, which in his native language of Kinyamulenge means Young Gasengo or Gasengo Jr.
"I have been fortunate to watch Cpl. Claude mature and grow into a strong leader capable of leading Marines as a non-commissioned officer and now an officer..." Capt. Ryan Petty, a former platoon commander of Claude's
As a result of his father’s job, Claude was exposed to many different cultures from an early age, including the United States. One such influence came from a foreign aid worker that Claude’s father befriended and became a lifelong friend, Capt. Claude, a retired Marine Officer. Claude’s father was particularly fond of the American fighting spirit and had known about many of the battles U.S. Marines fought in which inspired him to name his son after his friend.
Since its beginning, The Banyamulenges lives by a code of bravery, honor and honesty, which are values expected of all tribesman. These same values attracted Claude from an early age to the core values of honor, courage and commitment the Marine Corps instills in every Marine.
Claude describes it as a marriage at first sight. “My tribal values and the values that are instilled in any Marine, that's what led my father to lead me into an enlistment and later the pursuit of becoming an officer,” he explained.
Violence broke out in their home region in 1998 and Claude’s father used all his resources to evacuate as many people as he could, including his infant son Claude and the rest of his family. During this time Claude’s father stayed to fight with every able-bodied man and entrusted his family’s safety to Capt. Claude. The family was separated, and Claude would not see his father for the next four years, even believing he had died.
His family was rescued by United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DRC. The U.N.’s mission was to the protect the civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts. After being rescued Claude’s family was granted asylum in United States in 2011. He now calls Houston home.
Speaking To The Marines
Photo by Cpl. Ryan Schmid
U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Nkundimana Claude, a fire team leader assigned to Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, is pinned as a 2nd Lt. during his commissioning ceremony at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, June 17, 2023. Claude moved to the United States from Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa and enlisted in the Marine Corps to become a U.S. citizen. He then graduated from Texas State University and commissioned as an officer.
Upon arriving in his new home, Claude had one goal set in mind: to become a Marine Corps Officer. He knew there were steps he had to take to achieve his goal, the first being U.S. citizenship. In 2016, he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve and entered a program called the Basic Training Initiative, a program run by United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. This program allows service members to immediately start the naturalization process so they can become citizens as soon as basic training is complete.
Serving in the Marine Corps Reserve accelerated Claude’s path to commissioning. Now as a U.S. citizen and having earned the title of U.S. Marine, his next step was completing Officer Candidate School and earning his degree. He began studies at Texas A&M University in 2015, and he completed the ten-week Platoon Leaders Course at OCS in 2019.
Now all he needed was his degree. Tragically, after he returned from OCS, he was told his father was dying from cancer, and he passed away a few months later. Claude couldn’t continue college after his father’s passing and tried going to community college but ended up taking a break from school.
Marine Corps policy requires candidates who leave college are dropped from the PLC program. They are allowed to reapply, but they can’t continue the current contract.
Claude did just that after a few years. He reapplied to college, this time at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. Knowing exactly what he needed to do, he submitted another OCS package and was selected. He completed the PLC combined a second time knowing all that was left was to finish his degree. He graduated from Texas State University with a degree in Political Science in 2023.
Although Claude initially wanted to serve active duty, he credits his time in the Marine Corps Reserve as an important step to achieve his goals.
“Once I commission, I will go active duty,” Claude said. “And the Reserve was a route for me to get my citizenship and that way I could start my PLC application. I've learned so much from the Reserve.”
Capt. Ryan Petty, a former platoon commander of Claude's said, "I have been fortunate to watch Cpl. Claude mature and grow into a strong leader capable of leading Marines as a non-commissioned officer and now an officer. His zeal for being a Marine was always strong and now he will pass that zeal to his Marines. As his former platoon commander, I take pride in the Marine leader he has become and look forward his future service and unlimited potential. Through adversity he persevered and took his own losses as the fuel for his strength."
This is Claude’s second time at ITX since joining the Marine Corps. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you don't really get to train as much as we do here.” He said. “As an officer, this is exactly what I want to do. I want to be able to command an operation as big as this, maybe in a training environment or maybe in an operational environment.”
Claude is excited about his future as an officer. “The Marine Corps brings together a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life. I want to be able to travel, I want to be able to talk to different individuals, and just broaden my knowledge of the geography of the world, of the different cultures. And, of course, everybody has a little something that they bring to the table. I want to get as much of that as possible.”
Claude will continue his officer journey when he attends The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, in September. He sees this as homage to his father, who had always wanted his son to uphold the values of the Banyamulenge tribe and the Marine Corps.
“My job is to be a warrior and to learn how to fight, and once the time is right, actually go fight,” he said. “I know this made my father proud and he is smiling down on me wherever he is.”