From Ghana to Wichita: an Airman's story

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class John Linzmeier
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Visiting a local recruiting office is often the first step a person takes to begin a career in the Air Force. For Airman 1st Class Samuel Nyamekye, his first step was coming to the USA.

Nyamekye can be found leading a surveying and design team or reviewing plans for an upcoming construction project as an engineering assistant in the 22nd Civil Engineering Squadron, a long way from where his journey began.

Seven years ago, Nyamekye enrolled in college to begin studying chemical engineering in the Republic of Ghana, a small country in West Africa, where he lived his entire life.

After his enrollment, he crossed paths with a travel and tour agent promoting the Diversity Immigrant Visa, a lottery program offering foreigners a chance for residency in the U.S.

Nyamekye optimistically handed the agent his information, even though he knew his chances of being selected in what was known as "the American lottery" were slim.

"A year passed with no response," sighed Nyamekye, "so I decided to forget about it and moved on with my studies. I had lost the mindset of coming to the U.S."

Devoting himself to school, Nyamekye was supported financially by his brother Maxwell, who was already working in America.

"In Ghana," Nyamekye said, "either you go to school or work. It's very difficult to do both with success. You need someone to take care of you, so my brother supported me throughout college. I will always be grateful to him."

In 2010, Nyamekye graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, married his fiancé Elizabeth and they were soon expecting a child.

Born two months early, his daughter Stacy required specialized hospital treatment and the family was left with little money.

"I came home one day and thought about where I could find a better job to support my new family," he said. "As I was thinking, a man called and said I have been selected to receive my visa to America."

All that was required of Nyamekye was to verify his information at the agent's office the following day and complete his residency interview nearly one year later.

"It was the happiest moment of my life," he said. "At the same time I was really sad to leave my wife at home, but I knew I needed to go."

The opportunity to move to America gave Nyamekye a new sense of security for his family's future, he said.

Buying a one way ticket to Atlanta, Ga., where he would live with his brother and mother, he said goodbye to his wife and daughter, knowing he would better provide for them and someday reunite.

Two of Nyamekye's dreams became reality in July 2011: coming to America and traveling on an airplane.

"I had no work history in the U.S.," he said, "so nobody wanted to hire me, even though I had my degree. The only job I could get was at a warehouse. I was very grateful for it, but I was only working there for survival, just to take care of my family back home."

While pleased with the ability to send funds to his family in Ghana, Nyamekye wanted to begin a professional career and expedite his citizenship process, which would allow him to bring his Stacy and Elizabeth to the U.S sooner.

Nyamekye begand researching a career in the Air Force after his brother told him of a friend's positive experience in the service.

He enlisted and left for basic military training in May 2012.

"I saw military training much different than my peers did because I have lived in harsh conditions before," he said. "Also, it wasn't the first time I was away from my family, so the hardest part about it wasn't very new to me. I really appreciated my time at basic."

Two months later he arrived at his technical school Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo. to study civil engineering.

During his time in school, Nyamekye attained his U.S. citizenship

As Nyamekye flew back to Atlanta to begin the recruiter's assistance program after graduation, a stewardess called for a round of applause for him and another passenger in uniform.

"They were just clapping for us and I almost cried," he said. "I will never forget that day," he said. "I was amazed because I never imagined myself being recognized. It's very satisfying to know that people appreciate my service."

Nyamekye began his operational career at McConnell AFB, Kan., and began to notice how work conditions varied from the civilian workforce to the military.

Not only was he surprised to be paid for six months of training, but receiving 30 days of paid leave every year seemed almost too good to be true, he said.

"At all my previous jobs, I would sign papers that said 'whatever happens, the company is not responsible for us,'" he said. "If I would have an accident or need help with something, they wouldn't care. I appreciate what is going on in my life and how the Air Force has helped me arrive where I am now."

In February 2013, he returned to his home in Ghana after not seeing his family for nearly 19 months.

Friends, family and peers were proud to see the progress he has made and decision to choose a career in the Air Force, he said.

The three weeks spent at home left him recharged, but also anxious for the potential completetion of their immigration process.

"Apart from the fact I wanted something for my family and career," he said, "my education is also another reason why I joined the Air Force. I am looking to continue my education with business administration or something similar later this year."

Nyamekye has only been a part of the Air Force for a year, but has discovered that success follows when he practices three principles: stay out of trouble, challenge oneself and give thanks.

"Since A1C Nyamekye came to McConnell his work ethic has been phenomenal," said Staff Sgt. Kevin Patteson, 22nd Civil Engineering Squadron engineer craftsman and Nyamekye's supervisor. "He has a good sense of humor and jokes around a lot, but when it comes down to professionalism and customs and courtesies, he jumps ahead of everybody else."

Originating from a background where he was once given only a fraction of the amount of recognition, pay and responsibility, Nyamekye strives to make the most out of his career.

"I used to work alone in a corner and nobody knew me," said Nyamkye. "I have made so many new friends I would have never imagined meeting," said Nyamekye. "If you realize how many others are looking for opportunities like the ones I have had, you appreciate everything so much more."