An Ethiopian in the U.S. Military
By: Alula Berhane
"So, why did you join the US Air Force?" has become a very familiar question
asked of me in the last 7 plus years.
Let me begin with a brief synopsis of my life around the time I made my decision.
In late 1989 I was working at a grocery store making insane money for a single
guy with no responsibilities. I was just living it up! I traveled, partied
and just had a dandy 'ol time! The problem was, I still had that "Education
is key!" bug that I inherited from my father nagging at me everyday. At the
time, all I had was my AA and I was waiting for the company I was working
for to open a branch in Sacramento, CA, so I could transfer and finish up
my BA there.
After waiting around for a year and a half, I began to look at all possible
alternatives. One alternative was the Army. I had picked up some information
on the Army during a career day presentation a few years back. I knew that
it would pay for schooling, but I didn't know the details. So, one day I
was out gallivanting around when I passed by a recently completed building
that housed all the recruiting offices of the different military branches.
I figured I had a few hours to blow anyway so I stopped by the Army office
and introduced my self to Sgt. D.
We sat down and had a "chat" until he found out I was waiting for my green
card. He told me to come back when I got it. During the six months it took
to get my green card, I did some research on my own and made a list of what
I wanted to do in the Army. When I sat down with Sgt. D I knew the goal was
to get my BA at the Army's expense, and be a fixed wing pilot. Sgt. D told
me that the only guarantee he could give me was that I could be a helicopter
pilot since Army aviation is 90% rotor wings. When I said no, he personally
walked me over to the Air Force office and introduced me to the recruiter!
For those of you who have dealt with military recruiters before, you know
this not the norm at all. They all have to fulfill a quota every month and
each body that walks though their doors is one less they have to go find.
Regardless, I ended up in the Air Force. And ever since the initial shock
of boot camp, which is another story in itself, I never have looked back
or regretted my choice.
The second question I am most frequently asked is where my allegiance would
be in a conflict with Ethiopia or some other third world country. I especially
remember one incident where I had a heated discussion, more like a shouting
match, with one of my abro adegs. From his point of view, I was a fool to
be in the Air Force. One, I was furthering the goals of American (he called
it Babylon) foreign policy which is never good for the third world, and two,
I was putting myself in a position where I may have to go against my own
if told to do so by this "Babylon".
In my humble opinion, as long as we live here and intend to continue to do
so, we all further the cause of "Babylon"-- by paying taxes, benefiting from
the economy and abiding by its laws. In that respect, we are all in the same
boat. If we don't like the American way, we all have the absolute right to
leave. You have to remember that serving in the military is not that much
different than working in a corporate office. The only difference is that
the corporate world does not require you to willingly put your life in harms
way. That is a risk I have thought of and accepted.
There is a huge misconception about serving in the military: that you have
to go wherever they send you whenever they decide. Although this is true
overall, there are exceptions. When the need arises for deployment of troops,
the first question asked is if there is a member who is a native or has ethnic
ties to the region. These members are interviewed to determine how they feel
about being deployed to a place where they may have to kill someone of the
same ethnic background as themselves in defense of American soldiers. If
you refuse to do so, you will not be required to go. Thus, if there ever
was a situation where war breaks out with Ethiopia, I don't have to go. At
the same time, this "if" is such a remote possibility that it should not
be a basis for me to forego an opportunity of a lifetime that is second to
none in the experience and satisfaction it provides.
You may ask what I've gotten out of my time in the service? What opportunities
I've had and how being in the service has changed my life? I can't fully
answer that without writing a book, which I have no intention of doing. The
short version is that I have grown to appreciate life everyday because the
nature of my profession dictates my life may end in the next few hours.
I have acquired professional and personal skills I can use for the rest of
my life. I've learnt not only to take advantage of any and all opportunities
that come my way, but also how to create opportunities for myself!
I have learnt that America is what you make out of it. The spoils of the
nation are yours for the taking if you ask and insist on it!
But most important of all, the service has shown me making money cannot be
a priority in my life if I want to live happy. If you do what your heart
tells you, whatever money you make will generally be enough to live comfortably.
You have to love your career and be able to wake up in the morning and say,
"Today, I will accomplish such and such!" In hindsight, this is why I joined
the service; my heart was in it and I love my career!