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Foreign-born Airman deploys, lives American dream

Staff Sgt. Nana Dankwa is a foreign-born Airman who spent most of his early life in Accra, Ghana. He lived with his grandparent’s and moved to America as an adult. After a couple of years, Dankwa joined the U.S. Air Force, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. Dankwa is a civil engineer deployed out of Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and is the NCO in charge of civil engineering for the 451st Expeditionary Support Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsier)

Staff Sgt. Nana Dankwa, the 451st Expeditionary Support Squadron’s NCO in charge of civil engineering, is a foreign-born Airman who spent most of his early life in Accra, Ghana. He lived with his grandparents and moved to the U.S. as an adult. After a couple of years, Dankwa joined the Air Force, eventually becoming a U.S. citizen. Dankwa is deployed out of Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gonsier)

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

The Air Force is proud of its diversity, providing Airmen the opportunity to live and visit places they never would imagine going and working with people from all walks of life.

One Dyess Airman, who is deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, as part of the 451st Expeditionary Support Squadron, is emblematic of the diverse force.

Staff Sgt. Nana Dankwa did not grow up in the U.S. He emigrated from Ghana and gained citizenship while serving in the U.S. Air Force.

Life in Ghana

“I grew up in Accra, Ghana, where I lived with my grandparents from my mother’s side,” said Dankwa, the 455th ESPTS civil engineer section NCO in charge. “My dad lived in the States and my mom was a nurse who travelled all over Ghana, so I really didn’t get much of an opportunity to see them. I pretty much spent my whole upbringing with my grandparents and other family members.”

Dankwa, who comes off as humble and modest, attributes his demeanor to his grandparents teaching him to respect others and to follow directions without asking questions.

“Despite living in a poor neighborhood, I was privileged to be given the opportunity to learn at the best schools in Ghana,” Dankwa said. “I went to a school with a lot of foreign diplomats and other foreigners, which opened my eyes to the western world.”

Dankwa was fascinated by floorplans growing up and would read his grandma’s encyclopedias just to look at them.

“As young as six-years-old, I would look at floorplans and just be so captivated by them that I would start to sketch my own, dreaming that one day I can use them for my dream home,” Dankwa said. “Lo and behold, fast-forward a couple of years down the line, and that is my job in the Air Force.”

As a civil engineer, he oversees the continued maintenance of the mobile aircraft arresting system and the contracts regarding the maintenance of Kandahar Airfield’s facilities.

Dankwa recognizes he had a privileged childhood. He would often watch the kids in his neighborhood play with rocks, old tires and other objects found on the street. He felt left out and wanted to play with them, but quickly realized those kids didn’t go to school and didn’t have toys to play with, so they spent most of their days on the streets. That experience opened his eyes to two very different worlds. What he saw amplified his drive to create a better world, so he set out to the U.S. to achieve his dreams.

Life after Ghana

Dankwa travelled from Ghana to America when he was 21.

“I had an incredible passion for flying, so when I got to the States, I wanted to learn how to fly,” Dankwa said. “As I started to do it, I quickly realized how expensive it was.”

After a few years in the USA, Dankwa got married. His wife was the motivating factor behind him joining the military.

Knowing how expensive flying lessons were and having little money, Dankwa started to consider joining the uniformed services. Dankwa, who was still not a citizen at this time, was overwhelmed by an uncertain future and whether he could achieve his dream.

His family was against him entering the military, knowing that many countries in Africa have been going through multiple conflicts for decades.

“While this was a setback for me, a year later I revisited the military idea and went to the Air Force recruiter,” Dankwa said. “I joined the Air Force in 2009 and finally became an American citizen a year later. Just being a member of the world’s best Air Force meant so much to me, so to raise my hand and become an actual U.S. citizen overwhelmed me so much. It was the end of one journey, but the beginning of a new one.

“I felt so proud and felt like I could do anything I set my mind and heart to,” he continued. “I no longer had any limits or boundaries, I could achieve anything.”

Dankwa is still pursuing his dream to fly, learning through a local school near Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and has already accumulated some flying time.

“Everything starts out as a dream and materializes on American soil,” Dankwa said. “I want to find a way to merge my job as a civil engineer with flying."

Team of Diversity

Despite not being born as a U.S. citizen, Dankwa is in Afghanistan, serving the very nation he swore to protect and defend.

“The military has developed me a lot,” Dankwa said. “You get to grow friendships and bonds that are limitless. I am able to bond with great Airmen, with many different backgrounds, who have limitless potential and bring so much to the table.”