Immigrant Airmen bring diversity to force

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Benjamin Wilson
  • 407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

As a nation founded by immigrants, the U.S. has long drawn its strength through the diversity of its citizens.

The complexity of global challenges the U.S. faces today can only be overcome by capitalizing on all the resources at its disposal, including leveraging its greatest strength – its people.

“Our country has a natural advantage in our incredibly diverse population. We just need to maximize it,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein during an Air Force diversity inclusion video. “Diversity brings us face to face with those who think, speak and act differently than us.”

Some of those diverse Airmen, deployed to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group in support of Operation Inherent Resolve in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria were able to leverage the unique perspectives they have gained through life experiences leading up to their Air Force careers.

Although the stories represented here are only a small cross section of the diversity in our force, they help illustrate how Airmen can draw upon their own unique experiences to lend new perspectives to executing the mission.

Staff Sgt. Tamba Benjamin
407th Expeditionary Comptroller Squadron

Born in Monrovia, Liberia, Benjamin and his family fled to Freetown, Sierra Leone, when he was very young only to find themselves in the middle of a civil war there.

He and his family lived in the war-torn nation for years before his siblings, who had moved to the U.S., learned of his whereabouts and sent for them.

They immigrated to the U.S. when he was 9 years old. Benjamin wanted to join the Army or Marines, but after watching his older brother return from Iraq in 2005, his mother pleaded with him to join the Air Force.

“Living in another country is like sleeping in someone else’s home -- you take care of the home,” he said.

Senior Airman Mina Fawzi
407th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron

Fawzi was born in Cairo, where he was raised until he was 8 years old.

At that time his mother decided to provide a better life for him, she left his two older sisters and their native land to move in with his father. His sisters, who are years older, were married and had a stable life set for them, in the eyes of his mother.

Fawzi said his mother felt the best chance to provide a comfortable life to him was to move to Turkey, where his father owned a business.

As time passed, religious tensions grew in Istanbul, and Fawzi’s mother decided it was again time to leave. They returned to Egypt to get visas for the U.S. and then moved to California to set up a new life together.

After Fawzi was laid off from his job as an electrician, he realized he needed to do something to support his mother, so he joined the Air Force.

Airman 1st Class Dijana Jakimoska
407th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron

Jakimoska moved to the U.S. from Ohrid, Macedonia, when she was 21 years old.

She said she joined the Air Force to challenge herself to try something different while serving the country that provided a better life for her at the same time.

She received her citizenship during the graduation ceremony at Air Force Basic Military Training in San Antonio.

Tech. Sgt. Laughten Hall
407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron

Hall immigrated to America from Jamaica with his father when he was 2 years old.

He spent nearly his entire childhood in the U.S. After he graduated high school, he started applying to colleges and for federal college aid. Hall said that is when he realized that he was not a citizen, but a permanent resident.

While active duty in the Army infantry, he gained his citizenship and earned a degree in criminal justice, which he now uses in his job as deputy sheriff in Broward County, Florida.

After leaving the Army, Hall decided to continue his service in the Air Force Reserve and he is now perusing a master’s degree in law.

Airman 1st Class Carlos Cedeno
407th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron

Cendeno is originally from Golfito, Costa Rica, which was made up of about 40 percent of U.S. citizens when he was growing up there, he said.

According to Cendeno, the town expanded rapidly due to business ventures by a U.S.-based corporation, but when it left the city went into economic decline. He said he always remembered the sense of security and prosperity the American company brought to the region and he had dreamed of living in the U.S. ever since.

When Cendeno was a young man, the American company he worked for helped him apply for immigration to the U.S. His half-brother was already living in New York City and although they had never spoken before, he agreed to help Carlos establish himself there.

Cedeno was in New York City during 9/11 and was inspired by the way the National Guard helped the people there. He wanted to join, but was over the age limit at the time.

After meeting his fiancé and having kids, he moved to Vermont to raise a family. It was there that he met someone in the Vermont Air National Guard and learned of the unit’s involvement in keeping the skies safe after 9/11.

Cedeno went one final time to talk to a recruiter about joining the Air National Guard and learned that the age limit had been raised.

By that time he had already had earned his citizenship and was able to become a crew chief on one of the very fighter jets he remembered seeing police the sky after 9/11.

Airman 1st Class Freeman Degboe
407th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron

Degboe is originally from Lome, Togo, but immigrated to the U.S. when he was 13 years old.

His father had already come to America to set up a new life in Brooklyn and then sent for the rest of the family. He said they had no choice but to flee Togo, which was in the midst of civil unrest due to a power struggle between the northern and southern factions of the nation.

Degboe said he remembers education being the most important thing to his father, so Degboe pursued and has earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont.

It is Degboe’s dream to become a pilot in the military and he is currently submitting a package for pilot training and commission.