By Sgt. Blair NeelandsMarch 1, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y.--The American dream; its definition varies from person to person. Some may want to be the next sports superstar; some may want to start a family and buy a house with a white picket fence; and some may want to serve their country.
A combat medic in 10th Mountain Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, pursues his American dream every day.
Spc. Eric Gavour was born Nov. 11, 1981, in the small town of Nkawkaw, Ghana, West Africa. During childbirth, his mother experienced complications that have shaped the way he lives his life.
"As if childbirth itself was not stressful enough, my mother had a (complication) during delivery, which is why I took an interest in obstetrician / gynecologist," he said.
As the son of an engineer and a teacher, Gavour was encouraged from a young age by his parents to do the best he possibly can and to never stop dreaming.
"I have always lived after my father's advice that even though I was small in stature, I could be as big as I wanted, and all I had to do was dream big and work hard to achieve my dreams," he said.
Early in his education, Gavour's teachers saw his potential; he was moved up in grade twice. Once he reached high school, Gavour narrowed his focus by studying sciences. After three years, he took an entrance exam and was accepted to the School of Medical Sciences, Kwame Nkrumah University of Sciences.
"My first four years I spent studying and mastering anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, etc.," he said. "At the end of my four years, I earned a bachelors of science in human biology in 2005. I then spent the next three years studying clinical practice with emphasis on internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics and obstetrics / gynecology."
During his fifth year at the university, he had the opportunity to travel to Germany to study for a month with a transplant unit.
"I had the opportunity to work with German doctors and medical students in the organ and tissue transplant center," Gavour said. "That really drove me to working harder to achieve my dreams."
After seven long years, Gavour finally graduated from medical school in May 2008 with bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery degrees, which are honored in Ghana, several European countries, New Zealand and South Africa, but not in the United States.
"I completed medical school at the age of 26 and was even hungrier for means to better myself," the 30-year-old said. "I traveled to visit my sister in Mission, Texas, and on Oct. 29, 2008, I decided to stay here in the United States and fight to live the American dream."
He gave up everything he had, including his ability to practice medicine, to follow his dream. In order for foreign medical doctors to practice in the U.S., they must receive certification by the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates. Before receiving this certification, Gavour must pass the three-step U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, but each part costs between $780 and $1,355.
Gavour got a night job as a clerk at a local pharmacy while he saved up money and studied for his exams. He then met an Army recruiter and realized his dream of becoming a medical doctor in the U.S. could be achieved in the Army. Soon after, he found himself facing the toughest challenge of his life: basic combat training at Fort Sill, Okla.
"Those were the longest nine weeks of my life," Gavour said. "I learned a lot about teamwork; before, I always just depended on myself and all I have ever had to do was go to school and pass. It was a big wake-up call for me."
Graduating basic training is a proud moment for every Soldier, but Gavour's graduation was extra special.
"I became a United States citizen the same day I graduated basic training," he said. "I was told it would take a year before I would become a citizen, so when I got my citizenship that day, it was awesome. When the lady sang the national anthem, it was touching."
After advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he graduated with honors, he and his wife arrived at Fort Drum and the North Country last spring. In the time he has spent in 1-87 Infantry, he has juggled the demands of studying for his exams on top of the challenges of everyday training.
When it came time for him to take his first exam in December, Gavour nearly postponed it, until the words of his battalion commander, Lt. Col. Daniel Morgan, encouraged him to keep going until he achieved his goal.
"My son is a wrestler, and what I tell my son is what I tell the formation, and that is you don't step onto the mat to wrestle or into the ring to fight thinking that you're going to lose, because if you do, the guy on the other side is going to beat you," Morgan said. "You have to go in, knowing, believing and thinking that you are going to win. For him, his fight is to pass those tests, and that's what he is doing. You can't walk into the ring thinking you are going to lose, because you will."
Morgan had met Gavour previously, but during a recent field training exercise, he discovered there's more to this small-statured medic.
"Immediately upon talking to him, he was asking me questions that were beyond that level of a medic," Morgan said. "I had met him before, but I didn't know his whole history, so I asked him how he knew all these questions to ask, and he told me that he was a doctor. I was flat-out shocked. Then he explained to me what was going on, so we went off to the side and had a personal one-on-one conversation about him.
"The best way to describe it is I was intimately touched by his story," he said. "I was completely and profoundly floored of the fact that I had finally met somebody like this that you hear about on Oprah Winfrey or something, and lo and behold, he is right here in my battalion."
With help from 1-87 Infantry leadership, Gavour is encouraged to use every spare moment to study, including listening to seminars in his car, to prepare for the second test in March and the third test in May.
Once Gavour passes the third exam, he will become certified by the ECFMG board; with this certification, he can then apply for an internship and residency.
"When I was in basic training, our commander would come in and ask 'how you doing, Charlie Company?' and we would say 'livin' the dream,'" Gavour said.
"At the time, they were just words, but now I really am living the dream because I'm here in the (United States), working with the best of the best; I'm now a medic in the U.S. Army; I get to rub shoulders with guys who put their lives on the line to defend this nation and fight for the freedom of the world. That is living the dream for me. And on top of all of that, I'm working on becoming what I studied for seven years to be: a medical doctor in the U.S. Army."