It doesn't matter where you come from. It doesn't matter what ethnicity you are. Whether answering a Patriotic calling, growing up underneath the guidance of irresponsible parents, or having to navigate the extensive red tape of our immigration system, the United States Army serves as a beacon of inspiration and hope to not only American citizens, but people all over the world. It is the gold standard for melding various cultures and races into effective military teams throughout the ranks.
The country of Nigeria is no exception.
Over 6,000 miles outside the United States lay the cities of Kaduna and Benin, Nigeria. They are the respective birthplaces of Spc. Davidson Momodebe, of the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division of Fort Hood, Texas and Capt. Daniel Edomwandagbon, with the 418th contracting brigade, 901st Contracting Battalion, with Army Contracting Command, (ACC) providing support for the 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division upon any and all of their deployments.
They are both United States Army Soldiers.
They both have nicknames that are condensed versions of their last names. Edomwandagbon is known as Cpt. "Edi" and Momodebe goes by Spc. "Momo."
Although they are from the same country, their paths to success were very different roads less travelled.
Growing up, Momo faced great adversity and a number of harrowing moments, as he couldn't be sure of making it back home after school from day to day, let alone, ever making his way to the United States and becoming a Soldier in the Army. Nigeria has many competing political and religious factions. Often, their differences are not settled peacefully.
As a Christian, he was a target.
"I grew up in the north, many of the people practice Sharia Law," said Momo. "We were all in high school back in 2000, and they tried to invade the southern part of Kaduna. We just had to run for our lives from school and wait for the military police and the Army to come calm things down."
Edi, a contracting officer, was fortunate to have an educated, upscale family. However, he dealt with adversity too, on a more personal level.
"The biggest difficulty is that when I was very young, my mom and my dad separated. We don't really have divorce in my country, you just separate and go your own ways," said Edi. "So I kind of grew up on my own. I had to pull myself through school."
In December 2013, Momo attained a United States Visitors Visa and established residency in Atlanta, Georgia. He was sworn in September 2017 and has never looked back.
"Joining the Army was something I've always wanted to do. I admired Army officers on television. I see movies like Rambo, all those movies with the Japanese, the Chinese, all those war movies, said Momo. "I think, though, it's really more about peacekeeping, security, and defending the constitution and the people."
Momo works as a Petrol Supply Specialist, essentially, a refueler of the U.S. Bradley Fighting Vehicles and tanks. He dispenses JP-8 jet fuel that comes with specific field considerations.
"Safety first, I only do hot refueling in the field as long as the vehicles are grounded with a grounding rod. Also, we have to be very careful about spilling. German regulations are different," said Momo. "If we spill, then we are supposed to dig at least 6 feet of the soil out, and we don't want to have to do that.”
In addition to assimilating within a new culture, both Soldiers had to become proficient in the English language. Edi speaks Edo, (native language of Benin) and Treo. Momo speaks Hausa (Northern) and Yoruba (Western).
After serving as both a warrant officer and presently as a commissioned officer, Edi has a perspective of gratitude for the opportunities and benefits he’s received.
"The education was a big thing and I really wanted to be on my own, serving my country. It's an honorable job," said Edi.
These Soldiers continue to give back to a country that has given them so much opportunity. Indeed, Momo signed a three-year reenlistment agreement last month.
Yet, there is certainly one common denominator that attracts people to the United States from all over the world: "Freedom, yes freedom," said Momo. "In my home country, we experience dictatorship. It's not freedom of speech like the U.S."
"Freedom, liberty, the rights of the people as opposed to the rest of the world… I've been to other countries, it's different, the individual rights," added Edi.
In addition to potentially risking their lives, Soldiers on deployment often have to sacrifice milestones and meaningful events back home - like childbirth. Momo’s son, David is three weeks old. They will meet for the very first time upon Momo’s return sometime in June or July of this year.
"It's going to be my first meeting with David and my first meeting with my wife in the U.S. as she just travelled down from Africa," said Momo. "I can't wait to get home. My heart is back in the states right now."
Deployments are certainly one of the most stressful obligations that a Soldier must take on as a member of the U.S. Army.
"I enlisted in September, 1999. This is my seventh deployment," said Edi. "We don't really have issues, (at home) because my three kids are responsible, they know what to do."
Yet, this deployment has been unlike any other in military history as the COVID - 19 pandemic has changed the global order of business. Despite all of the obstruction, Soldiers in the United States Army continue with their training. Albeit, with revised protocols.
"We can't have more than ten people in the Laundromat at the same time," said Momo. "Each day, we go to the motor pool and conduct regular Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services on our vehicles (PMCS), but they're only transporting five Soldiers at a time, and while driving the truck we are maintaining social distancing plus you've got to have a facemask on."
Edi concurs, "We are staying six feet apart, and when we can't maintain that distance we are wearing our own individual masks."
As the days of viral restrictions turn into weeks and months, the reality of a changing world is sinking in. Formations and working together as an entire team have always been cornerstones of the military. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army is adapting as necessary.
"Obviously, it's going to change a lot of things. It's going to be a different world, but we'll figure out a way to make people even more productive," said Edi. "There's going to be some innovations coming out in how we go forward to do things. Gradually, we'll realize that there are some positive things that will come out of this."
As their nine-month long deployments are coming to a close, these Soldiers are looking very forward to returning home to Fort Hood, TX. In particular, to reuniting with their families.
"I want to hold them tight, I want to kiss my baby, and I'll probably start crying cause I miss them a lot," said Momo.
When asked what he misses most about his family, Edi clearly summed up his feelings.
"Everything, really. Somebody I can talk to, it's fun to watch your kids grow and see their own perspectives about life… to just provide that guidance. Teach them and learn from them too, it's a different generation."
It's a different world now too, but adapting to changing environments is nothing new for these Soldiers who came from a world away.