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Nigerian Airman has high hopes for his military career
Airman 1st Class Ugochukwu Nwosu, 1st Operations Support Squadron intelligence analyst, is a native of Lagos, Nigeria, and is 26 years old with a bachelor's degree in applied health science, and a master's in biomedical sciences. He decided to enlist into the Air Force to "give back to the country that has done so much" for him in the process of achieving his goals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Ashley Hawkins/Released)
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Breaking barriers: Nigerian Airman has high hopes for his military career

Posted 2/6/2012   Updated 2/7/2012 Email story   Print story


by Harry J. Lundy
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affaris

2/6/2012 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- For years people have been able to get a visa, join the military and become a citizen. But have you ever heard of a person immigrating to America, becoming a citizen and feeling obligated to serve their new country? Meet Airman 1st Class Ugochukwu Nwosu.

Nwosu works at the 1st Operation Support Squadron as an intelligence analyst. He gathers classified information, and briefs key decision makers on threats to national security.

He was born in Lagos, Nigeria. For him, growing up was all about getting an education.

"I saw people go to university in England, the U.S. and the Netherlands," recalled Nwosu. "They would get an education, and go back to Nigeria to help others."

Nwosu attended the Nigerian Air Force Secondary School. There, if you do something considered bad, you get flogged. Nwosu was chosen to be a prefect, one of eight leadership roles a student there could hold. With this position came responsibility and flogging, but he was up to holding the position.

"I was chosen to be the sports prefect. If our team didn't do well, I would get flogged," said Nwosu. "It was very challenging, but it taught me leadership and responsibility. They put me in those leadership roles, and I faced consequences for my actions."

Flogging is part of the culture in Nigeria, and takes place at all schools. Nwosu said that the flogging was not bad; it just hurts for a little bit.

After secondary school, Nwosu was able to attend university in the U.S.

"The perception in Nigeria is that an education here is top notch, and it is, but a lot of people take it for granted here," said Nwosu. "You have to live in Nigeria to understand. Teachers there don't give you their time. Over here they actually try to help you out."

Nwosu began his college career at Savannah State University in Chatham County, Ga., where he was close to his uncle. He then transferred to Bowling Green State University in Ohio, to be close to his brother, and complete his bachelor's degree in health with a minor in chemistry.

His older brother finished school, and moved back to Nigeria. Nwosu stayed to earn his master's in industrial hygiene, commonly known as public health in the Air Force, at the University of Toledo.

Nwosu had to work hard to overcome the challenges of a different language and educational structure here.

"I remember taking my anatomy class, and I couldn't understand the terms because I couldn't pronounce them," said Nwosu.

To compenstae for his lack of grammar skills, he began to cram. He would memorize what an item was, where it was and how to spell it. Initially he had some trouble, but once he understood and devoted more time to his studies, it got better.

While an undergrad, Nwosu met his wife and befriended her brother, who is a major in the Army. After hearing his brother-in-law talk about his Soldiers and being able to help them, Nwosu decided he wanted to join the military.

"I joined the Air Force because of my high school. I thought I was used to the Air Force life, but it was totally different," said Nwosu. "This isn't high school; It was a rude awakening."

His recruiter thought working in intelligence would be a good fit for Nwosu. He was not told about taking the officer route, and he admits he did not do his own research either.

After technical school, Nwosu worked towards a position to put his education to use.

His unit commander, Capt. Edmund McDaniel, talked to him and understood his perspective. He became an advocate for Nwosu, encouraging him to put a package together so he could become an officer in the field he went to school for.

"Someone like that shows me the blueprint of someone I want to be if I become an officer," said Nwosu. "You are not there to flaunt your rank or your position. You are there to help the people who can't speak for themselves."

During his short tenure in the Air Force, Nwosu said the most exciting part is meeting all the young people who know so much. He has learned so much from people he did not think he would learn from, and considers it an honor to serve with them.

"You see young people without a college degree that are smarter than those with a college degree. I don't think the public gets to see that. They just see a young person in a uniform and think, 'Oh, he's being misled,'" said Nwosu. "Actually, he's not. He knows exactly what he wants. He knows exactly what he is setting himself up for in the future, and that is just amazing."

"The camaraderie in the unit, the camaraderie in the military, it's something that just draws me to it. And sometimes it is unexplainable because it is like a family. I like that a lot," he said.

In addition to professional goals, Nwosu also has a personal goal based on a mentor and friend who helped him out.

Byron Freeman was the one who took Nwosu in when he first arrived at Bowling Green State University, and helped him pronounce things the American way.

"I joined the fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, and he died after that," said Nwosu. "But that was a huge help. It helped me join the community, and become something bigger than myself."

Even as Freeman was dying from cancer, he taught Nwosu goals, and the importance of helping the community.

"This man was going through cancer, but he would still go into the Toledo community and help young kids find a better way," said Nwosu. "Instead of violence or gangs, even if you don't want to go to college, you can still find what your niche is and pursue it."

Nwosu wants to take what he learned from his mentor, and help others here and back in Nigeria.

His mid-term goal is to create a non-profit organization called B-Free to Challenge Your Flaws. It is named after his mentor, and will offer a stipend for five to 10 students for every year they are in college. H heopes to help students from minority neighborhoods, who must provide proof of acceptance into a school, and most importantly, show what they have done to help their peers.

Nwosu already has a presentation put together, and hopes to raise funds through various means, including his fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha and contacts within British Petroleum.

His long-term goal is to sponsor a financially-challenged student from the Air Force Secondary School Ikeja in Lagos, and give them the opportunity to get a college education in America. He plans to work with his alma maters to let him use one of their full scholarships for international students to make that happen.

As for his immediate goal, Nwosu was confirmed and commissioned into the Virginia Army National Guard on Jan. 26. He is a second lieutenant environmental science officer. He will now begin outprocessing from the Air Force to continue his journey.

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