Why he serves: Foreign born Airman fulfills lifelong dream

  • Published
  • By Col. Thomas McCauley
  • 62nd Medical Group commander
Recently, I recognized one of our medics as a squadron quarterly award winner.

That same week in a staff meeting I was publicly congratulating that Airman who had just been sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Intrigued by his successes, I wanted to learn more and spent some time speaking with this remarkable young man.

He has been in the Air Force less than a year. He was born and raised in Nigeria. For most of his life his government was a military dictatorship.

Freedom of speech was virtually nonexistent. The distance between rich and poor was vast, and corruption was common.

In 1999, the country had its first democratic elections. While he grew up in the country's very small middle class and his circumstances were better than many, he dreamed of someday coming to America.

Why would he want to leave his homeland? He said that virtually every Nigerian would give anything to move to America.

Visas are scarce and given out by lottery. Most folks apply year after year hoping that they are chosen and can afford to make the trip.

He said they want to come to the United States for the many freedoms that we enjoy and for the opportunities that are open to everyone.

His science textbooks taught about many technological advances in our country. The students wanted the chance to live where these discoveries were realized.

He then said something especially interesting, "In America every single person is significant."

He explained that if he called 911, rescue personnel and equipment would rush immediately to him no questions asked, even if he was destitute. In Nigeria, he said, that would never happen.

What a perspective. I had not really thought about the societal mindset that is behind something as familiar as our national 911 system.

In one sense, that is a good thing. With a nearly intuitive belief in the value of our citizens and their well-being, we scarcely think twice about investing enormous resources to maintain our police, fire and medical response system.

This Airman's testimony of patriotism and enthusiasm is a powerful reminder of why we serve in the Air Force.

What we accomplish is still of such positive significance that others choose to leave the countries of their birth to serve with us and aspire to be U.S. citizens.