BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)
Being away from family is nothing new to Airman 1st Class Nana Sefa, who is currently deployed to Afghanistan on a six-month tour; after all, it's only a quarter of the time he has spent away from his wife.
Sefa, a 455th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle management analysis craftsman, deployed from Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, understands that being away from family is difficult, as he has experienced separation his entire life. Growing up in Ghana, his father left for America when he was only four years old. After his father was gone, Sefa constantly moved around Ghana taking turns living with his mother, grandparents and at boarding schools.
"It was tough not having my mom around sometimes, especially when I was a kid," Sefa said. "I remember wanting to leave with her when I lived with my grandparents. I would not want to fall asleep, afraid that she would leave when I did. The next day when I woke up I would always ask my grandparents for her."
Although it was difficult moving around, Sefa learned to live and overcome being away from his mother, sister and father. At 19, after graduating from boarding school, he learned that his father was hoping Sefa and his sister would come live with him in California.
"After boarding school, I was finally able to be home with my mom," Sefa said. "We were having the opportunity to get to know each other more. Then, after graduation, my father filed for my sister and me to move with him to the U.S. I was excited because I hadn't seen him for a while, but at the same time I was sad because I was leaving my mom and girlfriend."
In 2010, Sefa and his sister made the journey to the States to be with their father. Immediately after arriving, he started working to pay for his college education. He learned to play American football and quickly adapted to a new way of life. After a few months in his new home, Sefa had saved enough money to return to Ghana to visit his mother and girlfriend.
During his short stay in Ghana, Sefa and his girlfriend, who would later become his wife, made the decision to attempt a long-distance relationship. Sefa wouldn't see his girlfriend again for two years.
"We kept in touch either on Facebook or phone calls," Sefa said. "We had a lot of trust in our relationship, and because what I had gone through with my mom, I understood how to deal with being apart."
Eventually, Sefa made the decision to join the Air Force to help the process of becoming a U.S. citizen and because he'd always been interested in the military, as he was part of the cadet program in his boarding school. After signing the enlistment paperwork, he again made the journey to Ghana to let his future wife know what his plans were.
"When I visited home in 2012, my family was very excited to see me after two years of being away," Sefa said. "I knew I was joining the Air Force and that I would be able to take care of my girlfriend, so I went ahead and asked her to marry me. I proposed and married her during my visit; then I had to make sure to get back to the States to start basic training."
As Sefa made the journey back to America, his wife remained in Ghana. After basic training, tech school and moving to his first duty station at Holloman AFB, he settled in one location in February 2013 only to receive a deployment tasking to Afghanistan.
"A few months after I arrived to Holloman I was able to finally get my citizenship," Sefa said. "Then shortly after I was told I was going to deploy. While I was deployed, my wife finally was able to get her green card and travel to New Mexico this past July."
Only seeing his wife twice during the last four years was a long struggle for Sefa. According to him, trust and understanding are what have made his relationships strong.
"I am really excited to go back home," Sefa said. "Sometimes it was hard being away from my wife, but she was very understanding. All she needed from me was reassurance that I was thinking about her."
While it's been difficult for Sefa to be away from his wife, he embodies the Air Force's core value of service before self. When offered the opportunity to curtail his deployment, Sefa declined in order to finish his mission and time in Afghanistan.
"Airman Sefa exemplifies our core value of service before self," said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Brown, the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing command chief. "Despite the potential to return home early, he expressed his desire to stay and finish the mission. Sefa also demonstrated our core value of excellence in all we do. In his duty section, on his own accord, (he has taken) on a role and responsibility normally reserved for a noncommissioned officer. He has proven his work ethic and warrior ethos."
Joining the military almost guarantees service members will be separated from their families at any given moment. For Sefa, his service is the best thing he has done to help unite his newly formed family because it allowed him to become a citizen and bring his wife to America. As he approaches the end of his deployment, Sefa will finally have a place to call home, as his wife will be waiting to join him after a long wait of being apart.
"When I get back we will celebrate our two year anniversary," Sefa said. "We might have a wedding, since we didn't have a big celebration. I am also trying to get my mom to move out here, and then our family will all be together."