Veteran Dancehall artist Zumjay thanked Bounty Killer after receiving his new rank insignia of Sergeant First Class/E-7 in the United States Army at a pinning ceremony held last Saturday.
In the thirteen years that he’s been in the army, Zumjay, whose real name is Rohan Stephens quickly moved up in rank having received a Private E2 (or PV2), bypassing the junior rank of Private One/E-1 (or PV1).
“As Jamaicans, we are overachievers, (so) anything we do, we excel,” The System deejay told the Gleaner today. “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.”
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 took things further and challenged himself by enrolling in the US Air Force in 2017 before returning to the reserves in 2019.
“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, Stephens said.
The popular Dancehall entertainer also shared the accomplishment on Instagram on Saturday and revealed that his fellow industry compatriot, Bounty Killer played an instrumental role in the achievement.
“Thanks to all who believed in and supported me throughout my military career. Salute to Bounty Killer aka Rodney Price who told me from day one, that he was proud of me and encouraged me to aim higher,” he wrote on the post.
Bounty Killer in turn responded; “Salute yes sir u did it yute in shining colors bredda congrats.”
The passage hasn’t been easy for the Waterhouse, Kingston-native, who said enlisting in the US Army was “the most important decision I made in my whole life.”
In the beginning stages, 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.”
He graduated basic training in December 2008, and was promoted to Private First Class six months after enlisting, then was deployed overseas to the Middle East in September 2009, leaving his wife Aviesha Stephens, who remained in New York while he assumed active duty.
The couple married in 2006 and soon after migrated to the United States. On his Instagram share, Zumjay also thanked his wife for her relentless support. Aviesha had the honor 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,” Zumjay said. “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,” he continued.
“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”
Through it all the Dancehall deejay shared that his wife has been the backbone of his family, and without her support, he could not have done it. With everything he had to endure to pursue his mission it even took a long time to develop a close bond with his daughter, that happened when she was around six years old.
Aviesha held down the fort, “She had a good job in New York. I didn’t wish for my professional decisions to uproot” Zumjay said.
“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 added.
“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.”
It will require a lot more training and experience in his new rank of Sergeant First Class to move up another rank, but with the support of his family, Zumjay is confident that he will continued to make great strides forward. “When you have a dream and know the journey, it is possible,” he said.
Zumjay is best known for his appearances alongside artists like Bling Dawg in the track Up Deh and Alozade on the track Shell Shock along with others, Shake It, Do Or Don’t, Badman Nuh Show Off, Courtney, Go Look Wuk, Hype Pon a Gal and several others.
He added advice for anyone who wants to follow their dreams and achieve big goals. “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,” he said. “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.”
“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.