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Growing up in Togo on the western side of Africa, Oyebiyi Godwin Tosin Afolabi had big aspirations - to pursue higher education in the United States - but that goal has taken him even further than he had initially dreamed. He is currently a senior at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and an Army ROTC Cadet through the University of Minnesota, but it all began in 2016 when he was able to move to the U.S.
The Lome, Togo native graduated from the equivalent of high school in his hometown in June 2015 and moved to the U.S. seven months later.
Afolabi said his life in Togo was full, but he still had a desire to do more with his life.
“Back home, my favorite pastime activities were playing soccer, playing music, and hanging out with my friends. I was also involved in the choir at my church, the youth ministry and I was part of the church band,” he shared.
Once he was in the U.S., he took the opportunity to join the Army in June 2016 as an enlisted as a 92Y, Unit Supply Specialist. He went on to complete Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and later completed Advanced Individual Training at Fort Lee, Virginia.
Joining the military was a great addition to his original plans of getting his education, Afolabi explained.
“Growing up, people always use to call me “officer,” and although back then I had no interest in joining the military, it stuck with me,” he said. “I joined the military to improve who I am as a person and because I love a good challenge, plus the army was a good way to break out of my comfort zone.”
His time as an enlisted Soldier also sparked an interest in taking on more responsibility and leadership so that he could help mentor and guide others.
“In my experience in the Army, I’ve had awesome, and terrible, leaders and this made me want to become an officer that can affect change and inspire others. ROTC was the best option to achieve said goal because it allows me to continue my education while also working to become an officer,” he explained. “Being an officer will set the bar for anyone else in my family that joins after me, but it will also allow me to help others like my subordinates achieve their goals.”
He added, he also hopes he can provide insight to any of his future Soldiers who may also be immigrants.
“Being an immigrant gives me the background to help other people that may be immigrants within my ranks,” he said. “I also speak four languages, French, Yoruba, Ewe, English, so having such a diverse background allows me to see things from various perspectives and think in ways that may be uncommon thus allowing me to help my subordinates in different ways.”
Being an immigrant, Afolabi said it’s been interesting learning about some of the differences in American culture compared to back home in Togo.
“The culture here is very different to what I was used to. Here, the younger generations can talk to the old however they feel or even be the first to initiate a handshake but where I’m from, we usually prostrate to the adults and only shake their hand if they extend it to us first,” he explained. “In Togo, greeting people with the “left hand” is considered impolite and rude but I’ve seen people do it in the U.S. On the positive side, we have power supply 24/7 here in the U.S which we don’t have where I’m from.”
Afolabi, who lives here with his father and two siblings, while his mother still resides in Lome, said his family has been very encouraging of his decision to serve in the Army both as an enlisted Soldier and future officer.
“My family is very supportive of me. Although my mum gets a little worried at times, she is still my number one fan,” he shared.
The path so far has been an interesting one, but definitely not one Afolabi regrets.
“I believe these sequences of decision that I have made may possibly give me an edge over my peers because it has helped me improve my mental toughness and my physical abilities,” he said. “Even though my life could have been awesome in Togo, I think it’s even better now because of the opportunities I’ve been given and the impacts I can make.”
About Army ROTC
Army ROTC is one of the best leadership courses in the country and is part of your college curriculum. Through classes and field training, Army ROTC provides you with the tools to become an Army Officer without interfering with your other classes. ROTC also provides you with discipline and money for tuition while enhancing your college experience.
Army ROTC offers pathways to becoming an Army Officer for high school students, current active duty Soldiers, and for current National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers through the Simultaneous Membership Program.