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NEWS | June 18, 2024

Selfless Service: A U.S. Army Soldier’s Story of Adoption, Reunion and Sacrifice

By Spc. Wyatt Moore

Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Hebert held his mother’s hand while she looked teary-eyed at the 32-year-old paper trail that took him away from her. She had made the difficult sacrifice of surrendering her son to the Hearts of Mary Villa Orphanage when he was just an infant. A selfless act that took her son down the path to becoming a soldier.

“When I was an infant, I was put up for adoption. My mother wasn't in the best of circumstances at the time. She made the difficult choice to give me up in hopes that I would have a better life than what she could give me,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Hebert, a U.S. Army Soldier assigned to the Headquarters Service Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 25th Infantry Division.

The first opportunity for Hebert to reconnect with his family in the Philippines occurred when the Army stationed him in South Korea, putting him closer than ever to his birthplace.

“I reconnected with my mother back in 2013. That was one of the most important moments of my life," said Hebert. “I was granted a pass for Christmas and traveled over to the Philippines to meet family. That was an absolute journey of a lifetime. Finding someone you've been searching for for 20 years is an incredible feeling.”

In 2024, Hebert found himself in the Philippines for a second time for Exercise Balikatan, the most notable annual military exercise between the Philippines and the United States.. Hebert’s Filipino heritage and presence at the joint exercise indicated the exercise's goals to strengthen interoperability and partnerships between the U.S. and Philippine militaries. His connection to the Philippines and its people created a cultural bridge that helped him better join the two partner nations and afforded him the unique opportunity for a homecoming, one that allowed him to peek into his past and reflect on his service.

As Hebert sees it, selfless service runs in his blood. His biological mother, Gigi, has spent much of her life doing free dentistry and maternal classes for impoverished people across Asia.

“I worked contributing to community projects to provide dental care and mothers courses to the community,” Gigi said. “What I wanted for my children, I also dreamed, would happen for the mothers and children we help.”

Much more important than her volunteerism, however, was her ability to make the difficult decision to put aside her own desire of motherhood for her son and trust that he would have a better life than what she could offer him at that time as she put him up for adoption.

“I was sure that was what I was supposed to do, I knew I was going to let him go and entrust him into another family. Every day I would tell him that mommy loves you very, very much, and when you grow up you come to look for me,” Gigi said. “I once asked Jonathan if he was mad, if he had any questions that needed answering and he said no he wasn't, and that he couldn't imagine a better life or doing anything different.”

It was a little surprise that Hebert grew up reflecting that same selflessness in his own decision to serve.

“It was a calling that I was always sure of,” said Hebert. “Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a soldier. I wanted to help others and give back, and the best way I know how is to live my life in the service of others.”

Hebert's younger sister Eliza noticed many similarities between him and their mother. She greatly admired him for his character.

“It makes me proud that your heart is for other people; I see much of the way Mom is in you,” Eliza said. “For me and our family, it's always made sense to put others before yourself. Mom did that when she put my brother and his future first. There are many ways to be selfless.”

Standing at the Manila American Cemetery, where many U.S. and Philippine service members who fought and died in the Pacific now rest, Hebert pondered their selflessness and the selfless acts that led him to become who he is today.

“I'd like to thank my birth mother for the incredibly courageous decision to give me up for adoption. As a father, I cannot imagine the pain of that decision, but we try to do everything for our children,” said Hebert. “She gave me up in hopes that I would have a better life than what she could give me then, which is strength beyond measure. I would not be who I am today without that.”