A different path to citizenship

  • Published
  • By Louis Briscese
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Being an American citizen may seem ordinary for most, but for some Airmen, the path to citizenship is anything but ordinary.

Senior Airman Michael Mwelwa, a 60th Comptroller Squadron military pay technician, was awarded U.S. citizenship in May at the age of 23. Mwelwa was born in Zambia, a country in southern Africa. He lived there until was 5, when his parents decided to leave in hopes of a better life.

“Life was pretty normal in Zambia, but my parents wanted something better for us,” Mwelwa said.

Mwelwa, his parents and four siblings left Zambia in 1997 and found themselves in Pittsburgh. Transitioning to life in the U.S. was somewhat difficult for the Mwelwa family due to the change in location, schools and searching for employment.

“We didn’t live the same way we did back in Zambia, but once we got some traction things got much better,” Mwelwa said.

Unfortunately, that traction wasn’t enough to keep his parents from separating just a few years after arriving in Pittsburgh. Mwelwa said his family changed drastically when he no longer lived with his father.

“My father moved around a lot to places like Connecticut and Wisconsin so I would only see him every once and a while,” he said.

While Mwelwa was in middle school his mother joined the Army National Guard, which put him on a course to citizenship.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, “Members of the U.S. armed forces and their dependents may be eligible for citizenship, to include expedited and overseas processing, under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Although Mwelwa was proud of his mother, he said he had no intention of joining the military; he was planning on pursuing a football career. Ranked as the best running back in his conference, Mwelwa hoped to receive a scholarship to a Division I school and play football. However, in his senior year of high school, Mwelwa suffered an ankle injury that derailed those plans.

“Playing football was definitely a reality for me because the next ranked running back in the conference got a full scholarship and my stats were much better than his,” Mwelwa said.

His next option was to attend college on his own, which he tried for a year, until he realized it would be too expensive, he said.

Having taken the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery exam in his senior year of high school, Mwelwa knew another option was available to him; military service. He decided to join the Air Force.

The Air Force offered a variety of occupations for Mwelwa to choose from, he said, and his mother told him, "the Air Force takes care of its people."

“The Air Force had a lot to offer that I was interested in, it seemed like it had more opportunities for me because of my ASVAB scores,” Mwelwa said.

Since joining the Air Force in May 2013, Mwelwa has excelled.

“Mwelwa has an un-ending drive toward excellence, and embodies our core values,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Larsen, the 60th CPTS Financial Services Flight commander. “We can trust him with any job and we’ll know he’ll get it done right.”

However, what Mwelwa cherishes the most he said, is the fact that he can now call himself an American.