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Airman keeps sight of American dream

ROYAL AIR FORCE FAIRFORD, England (AFPN) -- Airman 1st Class George Okorodudu admits with a wide smile that he has nothing.

For the better part of two years, the Nigerian-born Okorodudu has been building his American dream with a foundation that includes an Air Force enlistment.

Okorodudu is a supply airman currently deployed here from Minot Air Force Base, N.D. Even as he waits for his U.S. citizenship to be finalized, the 25-year-old is excited about what lies ahead.

"The American dream is to start with nothing and to work your way up in the world," he said. "I'm excited to try this."

He should be. Before his immigration, Okorodudu was one of six brothers and nine sisters, and one of 30 million Nigerians applying to get a visa to go to the United States. While his country is rich with natural resources, the nation is flush with poverty, strife and political unrest.

Diseases, primarily HIV and AIDS, affect 5 percent of Nigeria's 129 million people in Africa's most populous country where the average life expectancy tops out at 51 years. According to the CIA's World Factbook 2002, Nigeria is also a safe haven for narcotics traffickers operating worldwide, and money laundering runs rampant.

Okorodudu said poverty and hardship reigned. He said the education system was broken and many towns still had no electrical power. Still, he said, Nigerians were "always positive" but longing for more.

"Everyone in Nigeria wants to come to the U.S.," Okorodudu said, "but they see it as an unreachable dream."

So did he. He knew that of those who applied, only 3,000 would get a visa. He thought, "What do I have to lose?" Nothing, apparently. He applied and received approval. By December 2000, Okorodudu found himself living with one of his sister's friends in southern California.

After deciding college would be an uphill climb, he looked into a military enlistment -- something that required family connections or money in Nigeria.

Now enrolled at Minot State University in North Dakota, majoring in sociology and setting his sights on a law degree, Okorodudu is finding success in the Air Force. He scored a 95 on his recent career development course test and is a candidate for a below-the-zone promotion to senior airman.

Staff Sgt. Ryan Brugman has worked with the airman for more than a year. Brugman, also deployed here, said if anyone deserves a below-the-zone promotion and to fulfill the American dream, it is Okorodudu.

"George is very sharp and professional," Brugman said. "He has a great attitude, and his initiative is unbeatable."

Okorodudu misses some aspects of Nigeria, like the food and his family. He talks to his mother once a month. She often calls her son "George Bush" because of his American military service. However, he is relishing his time in the Air Force and should have his citizenship by the time he gets back to Minot.

"It's awesome," Okorodudu said about Air Force enlistment. "I had to leave everything behind when I left Nigeria, but the Air Force met my needs, and it was a good opportunity. I'm independent."

Meanwhile, he continues to build on his portion of the American dream. In Okorodudu's mind, there is no turning back. He has primed himself for success even as his deployed unit builds up for war. He said to complete his vision, sacrifices will be made. Duty here is one of them. That duty is turning nothing into something -- and it makes him smile.

"It doesn't matter where you come from. It matters what you bring to the table," he said. "The cost is worth it. Freedom is worth it."

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