Everything I know about army life in America, I learnt from movies. The buzzwords, the abrasive drill sergeants, those godawful haircuts and that thing about their love for Camaros. So when I spied a certain spicy Nigerian in the army, I mean look at our guy:
I had to snap him up to answer some questions.
Kolade is a Nigerian who moved to the United States in 2014. He is now a citizen and a member of the United States Army, living in Kansas City. Grab your pens and papers, this is his Abroad Life.
Before I start doing one-handed push-ups over this call, what are the chances of a full-fledged Nigerian like me, getting recruited to the US Army?
Slim to none, sorry about that.
Are you holding out on me? So how did you get into the army?
Well, one word – MAVNI or Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest. Back in 2014, I had just a bachelors degree in electrical engineering from Covenant University, so I moved to Kansas in the US to get a Masters in Engineering Management. While I was doing this, I heard about the MAVNI programme, essentially — the US government was recruiting internationals to serve in the army and gain citizenship upon completing the program.
Did you just say citizenship?
Man, yes oh! All you needed to do was pass the tests and go through basic training and your blue pali was set. The only problem is, very shortly after I completed the MAVNI program, it got closed, I think it 2016. Now, you need a green card as an international applicant before you can even think of joining the US Army.
Tragic. But wait, you’re saying you flipped your student visa into a citizenship?
That is absolutely correct!
Opelope anointing. So random question before we return to the MAVNI program, what position do you hold in your family?
I am the first and only child.
Do you by any chance have video of you telling your Nigerian parents, their only child wants to join the army? I am ready to trade my left leg for it.
Haha. Funny enough it wasn’t very dramatic. The only thing is, because I know how my mother would have reacted, I didn’t tell her about my plans until I was 80% already in the US Army. At that point, she had no choice but to agree, it was actually very calm.
Must be nice. So how intense was MAVNI?
Oh, you have no idea. So before you get accepted, you must have been living in the US for at least two years, you needed a university degree, and then there were a number of tests and background checks to undergo because first and foremost, they had to confirm the applicant wasn’t a terrorist. So I went through that. But maybe the most notable thing was the language exam I had to go through.
They carried this TOEFL behaviour to the army too?
Oh no, nothing like that. The army at that time had to test that you were fluent in your native language. There was Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, other international native languages examinations, it was very intense. I had to write a test in Yoruba, then hold a conversation, purely in the language for 45 minutes straight with another indigenous speaker.
Laughs in my D in NECO Yoruba.
See, you think blue pali is easy? I studied for that exam like I had JAMB to write. Spoke exclusively in Yoruba to my mom for about a month before the test because if you fail that one language exam, that’s it. It’s all over Jackie, kiss that uniform goodbye. After that, I waited two years to go for my basic training. Normally, it should have taken six months, but I had to undergo security clearances and hurdles like that.
Sounds like a lot. But can I ask, why the army? Why not something engineering related?
Well, precisely because of engineering and maybe a few other factors. With an engineering degree, you would mostly get jobs that required a high number of security clearances, exactly the type of stress companies abroad hate. They’re very unwilling to file H-1B visas for international workers, when they can just source them locally.
And engineering is even mild. Immigrants with certifications in a field like aeronautical engineering, where their job descriptions require insane levels of security clearance, it is almost impossible to get jobs abroad. And shifting your life to return home after making a stable living in this country, having friends here — joining the armed forces and gaining citizenship just seemed like a no-brainer.
Also, they have light.
Haha. They do.
So what do you currently do in the US army?
Well, I am on the army reserves serving as a power generation specialist, which is a fancy way of saying generator mechanic. I go in once a month, but I have a regular 9-5 job that I go to every day.
Scuse me?! What this mean?
So here’s the thing. If you’re on active duty in the Army, that is your 9-5, you cannot have a secondary job. But if you’re on the reserves, like I am, I only go to my unit one weekend every month. So I’m in uniform only then and I get paid for that weekend.
And you are very sure I can’t join this army? I can do three pull-ups.
Haha. It’s too late Jackie.
So this 9-5 isn’t army affiliated?
Not at all. I’m on my lunch break, in my shirt and pants talking to you now. At the end of work, I’ll go home to my apartment and not, you know the army barracks. It’s very chill.
A wow. What are three things about the army about the army no one could have prepared you for?
Well, basic training. They tell you those ten weeks will be hard, but nothing can prepare you for it. Hmm.
Then I guess I’ll say the army shows you your strengths? I can’t think of a third, but things like that.
Okay. To the scary bits, is there a chance you can get deployed to war?
Oh yeah, it’s the army!
You get like 6-9 months notice beforehand though. Then there’s training. But that war, you’ll go oh.
But will you be involved in combat, being a generator specialist?
I mean, there’s this thing they say in the army, your first job is as an infantry man. So if you like, be a cook, a driver, you have to know how to shoot and be prepared at all times to use your weapon. So if they shoot you, shoot back.
A most understandable gbas-gbos. Another random question, are there any restrictions in the army, like say posting on social media?
Oh ofcourse. There are core values and things we can’t be caught doing. So off the top of my head, we’re not allowed to speak against the president, because technically, he’s our boss. So regardless of any personal opinions, you just keep it pushing and keep it to yourself.
Oh I see. And retirement? Can you do that at any time?
Nope. There’s an 8-year contract and you have to see it until the end. I still have a way off before I can.
So in that time, what’s your ultimate ambition in the Army?
Well, maybe a general, like an officer position. Or a Command Sergeant Major. But not right now, I’ll have to go through like six weeks of training to become an officer, and I just can’t take the time off from work right now. Maybe later.
Should I even bother asking if you would join the Nigerian army if you had a chance?
Here’s the thing, while my family would definitely stop me from ever joining, it isn’t something that I would immediately have written off. I mean, I’d have to join as maybe a Lieutenant or a Second Private, but who knows. What’s most heartbreaking about the Nigerian Army though, and I’m pretty vocal about this on social media, is how ill-equipped the government allows them to be. I mean, for people literally laying their lives on the line, they don’t get and their family doesn’t get the type of compensation and care they truly deserve. And that’s just a portion of the heartache of the Nigerian army.
Not one lie spoken, it’s heartbreaking. Last question, would you ever return to Nigeria.
Definitely. It’s in my 10-12 year plans. I would love to set up a non-profit, help people, and maybe set up one or two businesses in Nigeria. Just the business climate in this country is not the best, so here’s hoping they fix it within that time.
But I haven’t been to Nigeria in about 5 years, I mean I don’t miss the country, but I do miss my friends and my people. So yeah, returning to Nigeria? It’s in the plans.
Want more Abroad Life? Check in every Friday at 12 PM (WAT) for a new episode. Until then, read every story of the series here.