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NEWS | Feb. 26, 2024

Resilient Journey: Forging Bonds, Making a Difference

By Airman 1st Class Skylar Ellis 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

As U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Larry Okero, 633d Air Base Wing religious affairs journeyman, reflects on his childhood in Kenya, he acknowledges how his early years laid the foundation for his future journey—from the disciplined halls of boarding school to the structured environment of the United States Air Force.

 At the age of three, Okero found himself in the care of a family member; his mother had left Kenya for a better life and opportunities in the U.S. He spent nearly 14 years navigating through different family members and friends. Although his mother was not present she would send money to help with his care. Unfortunately he was left with the bare minimum, as those entrusted with his care, would use their money for their personal use.

While not all family members had his best interest at heart, one, Okero’s uncle, played a pivotal role in shaping his life. Okero’s uncle used available resources to make sure Okero thrived in the absence of his mother.

“Living with my uncle was one of the first times I felt like someone was actually taking care of me,” said Okero. “It felt like one of the first times someone had my back.”

To help him succeed, Okero’s uncle sent him to boarding school. The transition was challenging and he would often get into fights. Boarding school was a structured environment; a complete contrast to his life at home. After some time, he welcomed the change and began to focus on his education and personal growth.

“Boarding school was really good for me because I was away from all my family, and all of the drama,” said Okero. “It was just me and my friends, which helped me become better with people.”

As he grappled with being far away from his mom, the challenge of staying connected through brief visits each year became apparent.  At the age of 17, he finally moved to the U.S. to be with his mother; while exciting, the move was not easy.

Since English wasn't his first language, during his high school years Okero had trouble expressing himself and understanding others. Despite these difficulties, he not only became a graduate he also became a U.S. citizen. After high school, Okero hesitated to pursue further education because he didn't want to add to his mom's financial stress. With encouragement from his uncle, who was now in the U.S. Army, Okero decided to join the Air Force. He wanted to find his way and make a positive change in his life.

Okero began his military journey by enrolling in the Delayed Entry Program which allows individuals to enlist in the military and delay their entry into active duty for up to a year. During this time, he eagerly awaited a job assignment before attending basic training. Okero initially entered the Air Force with a job in cybersecurity, but ran into challenges during his training due to struggles with English.

“During my initial tech school challenges, tackling the required test was tough,” said Okero. “Turning to a chaplain, I was introduced to religious affairs, and after a quick interview, everything fell into place.”

After completing training to become a religious affairs Airman, Okero received his first duty assignment at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. Shortly after arriving, he was selected for his first deployment.

While deployed, Okero found himself immersed in experiences that mirrored those from his time in boarding school. To his surprise, he recognized potential to make a difference; honing his interpersonal skills as he connected with Airmen from a maintenance unit personnel. Amidst these connections, Okero discovered joy in unscripted moments, which often had a profound impact on those he helped and himself. One significant instance involved a struggling friend, where Okero's attentive listening and support helped pull him from a dark place. For Okero, this deployment provided a unique opportunity to break through barriers and forge lasting connections, reinforcing his belief in the transformative impact of genuine human connection.

“I love my job because it lets me make a real difference in people’s lives. During my deployment, I felt that impact even more,” Okero shared. “After talking to someone and seeing them smile and laugh the next day it showed me the meaningful difference I could make.”

He believes his evolution in life is a direct reflection of how he faced challenges with determination and hope. He attributes his dedication to service to the values instilled in him: perseverance, integrity, and empathy all which were rooted in Kenya and sprouted in the Air Force.