Inspiration | An immigrant’s Tale | Born Into Conflict – ‘Lost Boy’ From Sudan Finds Stability In Air Force

Posted June 25, 2013 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Inspiration ~ 31,106 views


For most Airmen, the journey to the Air Force begins around the corner at the recruiter’s office where they hear about the various benefits of serving. College tuition assistance, learning a skill, leave and others are all worth the trip. For other Airmen, the trip to the Air Force begins in another country and can entail hardship and obstacles but, there is one additional benefit to service.

According to the Immigration and Naturalization Act, military service streamlines the process to citizenship. Immigrant Airmen are able to waive about $600 in application fees. But more valuable than that, they get to waive a long wait. Immigrants who join the service after Sept. 11, 2001 do not have to undergo the typical waiting period. They are eligible to immediately file for citizenship. Additionally, Air Force Personnel Center staff work with immigrants to answer questions and assist them during the naturalization process.

“At any one time there are about 1,000 Airmen serving without citizenship,” said Master Sgt. James Murphy, an AFPC personnelist who works with non-citizen Airmen. “Each quarter we contact them with checklists and information to help them obtain citizenship. We are there to answer questions and make the process as easy as possible.”

Though the citizenship process is complex and potentially intimidating, it is well worth it. For some, like Senior Airman Deng Deng, just getting to the U.S. and joining the Air Force was the difficult part. For him, the Air Force not only taught him a skill and helped him obtain citizenship; it also was the first real home he ever knew.

Born in a Sudanese refugee camp, uncertainty was the only certain piece in Airman Deng’s life. Each day, his next meal, next shelter and next breath were threatened. His parents were displaced from their home in the 1980s at the start of the second Sudanese war, a cultural and ethnic war for control of the country. With no safe place to go because of the ongoing conflict, Deng and his family moved constantly.

“We were nomadic, traveling from place to place to escape the danger,” he said, a thick Sudanese accent coloring the perfect English. “When we crossed the border to a different country we could take a breath for a moment. In southern Sudan, until 2005, there weren’t any safe places.”

In constant danger since birth and with no basis for comparison, the realities of how bad his situation was never occurred to him.

“Aircraft would fly by,” he said. “They looked like United Nations planes but they weren’t. They would look to drop bombs and whenever they saw a hut or tent they would drop that thing there. It was fearful but we were born into it. There was no memory of comfort so that made it not so scary.”

Airman Deng, under the leadership of his brothers, constantly moved with his family. They traveled thousands of miles along the Sudanese border, crossing frequently. The longest Deng stayed in any one place was two years in Uganda. However, like everything else in his life, his interpretation of things was tainted by past experience. To him a single place was hundreds of square miles. He said he spent time living in Sudan, Uganda and Kenya; always coming back to Sudan but always moving.

This life of constant nearby conflict and continuous instability left Deng with no formal education and little understanding of the geography of the greater world around him.

“I never heard of the United States until I got here,” he said. “I saw the United States written on a bag of grain or food rations. It would say ‘USA’ and at the bottom it said it was from China. I thought the United States was a place in China.”

In 2000 Deng left Sudan for the United States. He was one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. The program began in 1998 for orphaned boys and was later expanded. It addressed the need for safety for displaced boys and young men from Sudan. The goal was to bring them to the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom, provide them with education and stability in hopes that they would one day return to Sudan as a stabilizing influence for their home country.

Airman Deng, once old enough to travel, left Uganda with a group of brothers and cousins. First they made it to Kenya and eventually went to the U.S.

“I didn’t really know where the U.S. was,” he said. “But as long as it was safe I didn’t care.”

After traveling on foot, by car, buses and aircraft, Airman Deng and his fellow Lost Boys landed in Philadelphia. Soon they were enrolled in a one-year language school to learn English. However, the shock of transitioning into a busy eastern metropolis was too much. The group, now a family, decided to move again.

Throughout his life, Airman Deng was always mentored and led by a “big brother,” usually cousins. In Philadelphia he didn’t have a good home to settle down. So, after completing the English course, he and some of the other Sudanese boys decided to find one.

“It wasn’t easy to adjust to the culture there,” he said. “We needed someplace quiet to focus on our life and education. Our older cousin lived in Michigan so we moved there.”

Once in Michigan under the leadership of his cousin, Airman Deng finished high school. Airman Deng knew there was only one thing he wanted to do after high school.

“Because of my background, I wanted to be a soldier back home–but my parents didn’t want me to be one,” he said. He added that his parents felt a Sudanese soldier’s life was too inconsistent. “Here it is professional with specialized skills and I thought, ‘yeah, I’ll join the United States Air Force and when I get out I’ll have this skill.'”

Airman Deng’s skills are in logistics. He has learned how to get what is needed to the right place. For Airman Deng, military life is a good fit. He enjoyed basic training and said it was something he would do again. In the Air Force, Airman Deng earned his citizenship and because of his military service he didn’t have to pay the costs to apply as a civilian. Additionally, because he didn’t have his citizenship when he joined, Airmen from the Air Force Personnel Center routinely contacted him and walked him through the citizen application process.

Though the Air Force has given him a new life, his heritage will dictate his future. The decision on whether to reenlist isn’t his alone. He is now the big brother.

“That choice is not my choice … it’s going to be my family’s choice,” he said. “They are back there (Sudan) and most of them are depending on me … little brothers and sisters who need my attention. I’ve been here since 2001 and have not seen them since. I joined the Air Force and provide for them but the decision is theirs.”

For Airman Deng, the Air Force was the first certainty he knew. The stability it offered gave him a much welcomed home away from his homeland. Having earned his citizenship this year, his focus remains service before self as he leads his family. He calls them every week and is a main source of support for an extended family of more than 20.

“Now that I have these skills I can help my brothers and sisters in Sudan,” he said. “Maybe once that is done I can come back and serve in the Air Force again.”

Source — WSJ

About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.



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