By Sgt. Alun Thomas, 1st ACB, 1st Cav. Div. Public AffairsDecember 9, 2009
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Sometimes all it takes is a piece of luck to change the direction of somebody's life, for better or worse.
For Spc. Opeyemi Akinwumi - pronounced o-pay-emmy akin-woo-me - it was for the better and he has his mother to thank for it, despite heavy odds.
Through his mother's good fortune at winning a green card lottery, Akinwumi's life was changed drastically; it allowed him to move to the U.S. from Nigeria and pursue a new path, one which would eventually lead to the Army.
For the first 20 years of his life Akinwumi, now from Wylie, Texas, a crew chief in Company C, 1st Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, lived in Ondo State, Nigeria, a place it was sometimes hard growing up in, he said.
"You have to hustle for yourself and go to school because there's a lot of poverty over there," Akinwumi said. "Most of the time you don't have people that are going to take care of you. The economy isn't really that great, so people from the middle class have to be able go to school."
Akinwumi's parents divorced when he was young and he found himself working as a laborer to save money for college and a future.
"Sometimes I had to go to a farm, do some labor work and take the money I earned and use it to pay for school," Akinwumi said. "You have to do what you have to do to go to school. Without school you can't go too far."
Despite the hardships, Akinwumi said Nigeria provided a good upbringing.
"There was a lot of mass unemployment, but for me Nigeria was comfortable because it was free," he said. "I loved farming and working with my hands ... I love sport and I played soccer for my college too. It was good."
Akinwumi said Nigeria was free of conflict when he lived there, but many people still sought to move to the U.S., including his mother.
"She wanted to come to America to study and have a better life," Akinwumi explained. "She put in for the green card lottery on the internet and finally won after years of trying."
As his mother and stepfather settled in the U.S. as teachers, Akinwumi said he was content in Nigeria, until his mother beckoned for him to visit.
"After my mother had been there for a few years she said to me 'it's been a while, come and spend some time with me,'" Akinwumi said. "I came over after I graduated college in 2005 just to visit. I thought it was better in America because there were more jobs and I could work anywhere, so the opportunity was there."
Luckily for Akinwumi the transition into citizenship was easy, due to his mother's status as a naturalized U.S. citizen which allowed her to sponsor him.
His next task was finding work to finance college, despite already having a degree from Nigeria.
"I had a degree in computer science from Nigeria but I never used it. When I came to America I wanted to change my line of work," he said. "I worked [retail], at gas stations and went to school full time to get my AMP (Aviation Mechanic Powerplant) license."
This proved too expensive for Akinwumi, who said the proposition of joining the Army to help pay for his education was a good alternative.
"I thought if I joined the military they'd be able to give the same education and I won't have to pay for it," he said.
Akinwumi's next stop was basic training, which he said was a positive experience.
"I knew it was going to be challenging being with people I didn't know that had different ideas and backgrounds from me," he said. "It was a good thing because it helped me learn more about people and their cultures."
Akinwumi's first duty station was at Camp Humphreys in South Korea, where he stayed for a year before he joined the 1st ACB.
"Every unit has its own challenges and the Air Cav. has been good so far," he said. "I would really like to go back to Korea too ... I was only there a year but liked it a lot."
Akinwumi said he wants to put in a packet for Officer Candidate School, but is still unsure about making the Army a career.
"It's 50/50 right now ... but probably," Akinwumi said, with a hearty grin.
One thing Akinwumi is certain of, however, is making sure he returns to Nigeria on a regular basis.
"I go back every year and that's a promise I made to myself," he said. "My grandmother and my uncle are still there ... so are my nephews. They like what I'm doing."