ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - While Master Sgt. Bakaffa Casey, a U.S. Army Africa information technology manager, was in Ethiopia to facilitate communications capabilities for USARAF-led exercise Justified Accord 17, he was able to reunite with his mother, Ferehiout Alemayehu Casey, for the first time since 1999.
"To see my mother again ... It was great," he said. "This is my first time coming back as an adult ... and, yes, there were tears."
Although Casey has not lived in Ethiopia for many years, he tries to keep the culture with him.
Casey said many of his extended family members now living in the U.S., often get together on special occasions, during which he is able to be a part of the Ethiopian culture. However nice, he said it did not compare to having the opportunity to experience the culture for himself.
"Seeing my family and the culture in person," he said. "Warms my heart."
In the early set-up stages of JA17, Casey's mother took him to have lunch and meet some of his maternal extended family members, some of which he said he had not met before.
"It was very emotional," he said. "They caught me up on all the local news and developments."
Near the end of the exercise, Casey returned the gesture by inviting his mother to the exercise location, to have lunch and meet members of the U.S. Army, which he considers extended family.
The lunch, as well as the other time spent reconnecting with his mother, was made possible because of USARAF, Casey said.
"Serving in USARAF is a unique opportunity for individuals with African-roots," he said. "Being with USARAF has as allowed me to be here ... To reconnect with my heritage - my home."