By Sgt. 1st Class Eric PahonOctober 17, 2012
KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan - U.S. Army Sgt. Koku Adzoble won a lottery to move to the U.S. from a tiny sliver of a country in West Africa where he grew up.
He joined the U.S. Army to make a better life for himself.
"Back in Africa, I was a teacher in high school," said Adzoble, who claims Bronx, N.Y., as his stateside home, but grew up in the West African nation of Togo. "When I came here, I was working in a store, and it wasn't good for me. So, I joined the Army. I saw a way to make a difference in my life, and this is a much better place. That's why I'm staying in."
Adzoble emigrated to the U.S. in 2007 under the Department of State Diversity Visa program. The program essentially works like a lottery, making up to 55,000 visas available each year, to countries with underrepresented immigrant populations in the U.S., according to the Department of State website. The program requires entrants to either have a high school education, or two years work experience in one of the job fields listed on their website to apply.
Adzoble won one of only 3,777 visas offered in his country in 2008, a country with a population the United Nations estimated at 6.6 million in 2009. He was a college graduate, having earned a degree in physics from the University of Lomé in 2006, and was teaching high school until he gave it all up to move to the U.S. in 2007.
"I had a chance," said Adzoble. "Some countries don't get that chance, so you play every year you're eligible, and if you win, you get to come to the United States and get a visa. I was very lucky."
Adzoble worked as a stock clerk in a New York City department store for about seven months when a co-worker turned him on to joining the U.S. Army.
"I was working for this one guy, and he joined the Army," said Adzoble. "He left, and when he came back to visit, I listened to what he told me [about the Army]. What he was doing was better than what I had going at the time, so I decided to follow him. He's the reason I joined."
In basic training, Adzoble faced difficulty understanding English. He said his drill sergeant wanted to hold him back for additional English language training, but the company commander let him stay on and work toward graduation.
"French is our official language," said Adzoble. "We went to school and took English as a second language, but no one really takes that seriously. We have two or three hours of English class, but no one pays that much attention to it, so they don't speak English all that well."
Adzoble managed to hang on, graduating advanced individual training in military occupational specialty 92A, automated logistical specialist (supply) at Fort Lee, Va., with honors.
"I've done well," he said. "I think the Army is relaxing for me. The things people worry about, like physical training, don't bother me. Every day I work as much as I can, but I still feel good about it. There's nothing wrong with that."
Following a two-year tour in Korea, Adzoble was stationed with Task Force Wolfpack, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, Fort Bragg, N.C., in December, 2010. He deployed to Forward Operating Base Salerno, Afghanistan, 11 months later.
Sgt. 1st Class James Crews, Adzoble's supervisor, says an unfailingly-positive attitude has allowed him to become a model Soldier.
"He's a hard worker," said Crews of Raeford, N.C. "He had some great leadership before he came to me in 2010. He's one of those guys who goes straight to work when you ask him to do something. He doesn't ask why; he just does it."
Adzoble is a supply clerk in the motor pool on FOB Salerno, keeping track of parts inventories, ordering new parts and monitoring deliveries. His job is critical to keeping the unit's vehicles out on the road, requiring an immense attention to detail and the ability to keep track of dozens of components all at once.
"He's an encyclopedia," said Crews. "He's that type of guy who'll pretty much look over something once or twice and he's got it memorized. It comes in very useful. When I'm trying to find a part, I ask him, and he knows what I'm talking about and where to find it right away."
Adzoble is adamant there's nothing he doesn't enjoy about the Army. Under a barrage of questioning to crack his armor, he finally let on to his only difficulty.
"Sometimes the places you want to be, you're not there," he said.
Adzoble has a wife and a daughter still in west Africa.
"The places they send you are where the Army needs to send you. That's the thing, but as for the rest, it's easy."
He says his daughter is too young to leave Africa right now, but he hopes to establish a permanent home in the United States so his family can join him in a few years. First, he wants to explore the country and find a place he'd like his family to settle.
"I don't want to bring them, then the next day we have to move again," said Adzoble. "It's not like I don't enjoy Fort Bragg, but I want to see more of the United States and see if there's somewhere I might like even more."
Adzoble hopes to get a physics degree in the United States in the future. He says he'll need to find a permanent place to settle down first, because the classes aren't available online.
For the time being, he's re-enlisted for another three years, and may be on his way to another promotion before he leaves Afghanistan. He's already won the Task Force Wolfpack Non-commissioned Officer of the Month board and the Non-commissioned of the Quarter board, and is headed to the next echelon to compete in the 82nd CAB Non-commissioned Officer of the Quarter board this month.
"He got pinned E-5 [sergeant] in December, and we're probably going to send him to the E-6 [staff sergeant] promotion board before we leave Afghanistan," said Crews. "He's just that type of worker and has that type of leadership style."
As for his daughter, Adzoble has no plans to push her into following in his footsteps.
"I'll try my best to guide her on her own way," he said. "She might want something different. The thing I can do is provide for her and do my best to support her. The one thing I want for her is to succeed and do something better with her life."