ISU student joins Iowa National Guard, answers call to service
By Zachary ZippeFebruary 13, 2021
CAMP MARECHAL DE LATTRE DE TASSIGNY, Kosovo - At the beginning of last year, Pfc. Sokhna Khadija Mbacke hit pause on her college career at Iowa State University to go to basic combat training and join the Iowa Army National Guard. Immediately upon her return from training in October 2020, she was told she would be deploying to Kosovo.“I already hadn’t seen my mom or dad in a year,” said Mbacke. “I had a month left before I had to leave, and all I wanted to do was go visit my family. Luckily with COVID and everything, I was actually able to go visit my family.”She spent 20 days with her family in Senegal and returned just in time for her Soldier readiness processing. While most Soldiers have months to prepare for a deployment, Mbacke had two days to pack up her apartment in Ames and prepare all of her newly-issued gear before leaving for pre-mobilization in Texas.“It was crazy having to move all my stuff and get ready for a deployment in two days,” said Mbacke. “I pretty much got no sleep until I got to Texas.”Mbacke didn’t arrive in Kosovo until December. By then, most of the Soldiers in her unit were already there. The 2nd Brigade Combat team, 34th Infantry Division, is the headquarter command of Regional Command-East, Kosovo Force, a NATO-led peacekeeping organization tasked with maintaining stability in the region. Mbacke is supporting the mission as a newly trained human resources specialist.Mbacke said the whole process was physically exhausting, but she maintained a positive attitude and adjusted well to her new environment with the help of her leadership and peers.“Pfc. Mbacke has integrated flawlessly,” said Staff Sgt. Ben Leuenhagen, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the human resources section at Camp Marechal de Lattre de Tassigny. “Her personality, work ethic and commitment to fitness has proven to her leadership that she is a reliable member of this team.”During the deployment, Mbacke said she plans to improve her physical fitness. She wakes up early to go to the gym. Physical readiness is something that has been instilled in her since her initial training, and it’s even more important in a deployed environment.In addition to her fitness progress, she’s taking six online credit hours at ISU to keep up with her academic career. Mbacke was born in New York, but her family moved to Senegal when she was young. After graduating high school there, she went back to New York before deciding Iowa would be the best place to get a degree in agronomy.Her passion for agronomy started when she grew up watching her father farm crops. He produced millet, corn, peanuts, some fruit and raised animals.She will return as a full-time student in the fall, only this time her tuition will be fully covered by the Iowa National Guard state tuition assistance program and other Army benefits.Mbacke embodies what it means to be a Soldier by moving to Iowa by herself, joining the military to pursue a higher education and answering the call to service in Kosovo - all during a global pandemic. Her journey is one of perseverance, dedication and new experiences.