Diaspora Stories | Ugandan-born war veteran speaks at Brookline Memorial Day
Brookline — Arthur Segawa moved to the United States from Uganda in September 2009. Two months later, he enlisted in the U.S. military. Segawa came to the United States on a green card visa after being selected in a lottery to receive the residency permit. It was his third attempt. On Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, Segawa, a member of VFW Post 864, was the guest speaker during a ceremony in front of Brookline Town Hall, in which he briefly talked about his service.
“The service members we honor today came from all walks of life, color, race, creed, but all had many similar attributes,” he said. “They possessed courage, pride for country, determination, selflessness, dedication to duty, and integrity. They all served a cause larger than their individual selves.”
Segawa was itching to get to the United States because of a lack of work opportunities in Uganda, where he worked in the construction industry.
When he arrived in the United States, he lived in Brighton with a cousin, and was encouraged by a friend to join the military as a way to get training in engineering.
Segawa was skeptical at first, since his idea of the military was a place where “they only shoot weapons.” He had no military background, but his grandfather served as commissioner of prisons in Uganda, a military position, said Segawa.
After enlisting, Segawa quickly found out about all the programs available to military personnel. He did basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. The training was difficult, but so was adapting to a new language. Segawa learned to speak English in Uganda, but it was difficult for him to communicate with others when he got to the United States. After basic training, Segawa was enrolled in advanced individual training, which prepares soldiers for the job they will be asked to do if deployed.
For Segawa, the training involved drafting plans for buildings, testing soil, and land surveying. After 16 weeks, he passed the course and was given a certificate. Segawa came back to Boston, at which point he was informed that his unit would be deployed the following year. Before he did, Segawa became an American citizen.
He was sent to Kandahar in Afghanistan, where he was stationed at Regional Command South. While there, Segawa did land surveying and other tasks for the military. He was in the region for nine months before coming back home. Segawa did not want to talk about any injuries he sustained while overseas.
“That place is dangerous,” he said, adding that the base where he was stationed was seemingly the target of rocket attacks every other day.
Nonetheless, he was supportive of the American mission in Afghanistan.
“I believe what we did was really for the betterment of that nation,” he said. “The infrastructure we built, the security we provided, everything was for the betterment of that nation.”
Once back in the States, Segawa looked for an American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars post near Brighton. He found a Brookline location, the Stephen F. Rutledge Post at 386 Washington St., and called.Elmon Hendrickson, who manages the post, answered.
Hendrickson invited Segawa to join the post, since he qualified for both the VFW and American Legion membership. Any U.S. military veteran can join the American Legion, as long as he or she has been honorably discharged and served for 180 consecutive days. To be a member of the VFW, members must have served 30 consecutive days overseas in a foreign country during a conflict, according to Hendrickson. The VFW website says members must have received a campaign medal for overseas service, have served 30 consecutive or 60 non-consecutive days in Korea, or “received hostile fire or imminent danger pay” in order to qualify.
Soon, Hendrickson befriended Segawa and invited him to stay at his home over the summer. Hendrickson was the person who introduced Segawa to Bill McGroarty, Brookline’s director of veterans services. McGroarty has helped Segawa with military benefits, such as the G.I. Bill, and with claims at the VA Hospital. McGroarty helped him get work in the town’s IT department as well.
“Bill has been awesome,” said Segawa.
The 38-year-old said he is now focused on his studies, and he hopes to specialize in renewable energy. “That stuff fascinates me,” he said.
Segawa said the response to his speech on Memorial Day was positive. He was a bit nervous, but he said having McGroarty by his side spurring him on helped him get through it. During his speech, Segawa thanked all veterans who served in the military.
“This country, I really found it to be very welcoming to immigrants,” he said, in an interview on Tuesday, May 26. “I think the military shows you can rise to any heights as long as you put in the work and you really want to be here.” McGroarty called Segawa a “great young man.”
“He’s truly an American dream story,” he said.
Source — Wicked Local – Brookline.