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Naturalized Airman - From Struggles to Stripes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexandria Lee
  • 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

This feature is part of the “Naturalized Airmen” series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story to American citizenship.

For some born abroad, America is seen as the land of ‘hopes and dreams’. It’s what they see on television or hear from the people in their communities. The path to make those dreams a reality is a long road filled with obstacles of resilience and determination, but many who have made it say it’s worth it.

‘”When I was 15, I moved from Accra, Ghana, living with my mom and older brother to living in the Bronx, New York, with my dad, alone,” said Airman 1st Class Adwoa Anima Ampem, 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron supply equipment apprentice. “Going through that transition was hard and looking back on all the things I went through – it was awful.
There are no rose-colored glasses to look through when I see all the hurdles I’ve gone over. But I made it and yes, I would change things but I’m better for it, I’ve learned from it.”

Ampem’s parents have been married all her life, but her father lived separately in the States.

“He spent the majority of my life trying to get American citizenship and after he received it, my mother sent me to live with him,” Ampem recalled.
“My family expected the process to be a lot quicker for me since I was under 18. I had met my father a total of two times before going to move in with him.

“My mom is everything to me, but I was so hurt and abandoned after she sent me to live with my dad,” she said. “I started to lash out and I made her feel guilty for doing what she thought was best.”

With immigration comes the language barrier and the task of possibly learning a new language.

“I had a very thick accent, and it made everything rough,” explained Ampem. “It made it hard for people to understand me, it made it hard for me to even want to communicate with people.”

“On top of that, my school paperwork had not been submitted, so I started my junior year in high school in a freshman class. I was angry all the time. I missed my mom, my friends, my home and now I’m living with a stranger in a strange place and no one to understand me.”

Transitioning to a new life can be difficult for anyone, not only because of the challenges that come from creating a new life, but also guilt that can be associated with leaving others behind.

“I missed my friends so much, I missed my mom,” said Ampem “I still miss them but I talk to them as much as often as I can because I always want to be connected to my home. I had to learn about my new home on my own, living in New York made me a hustler. I knew I needed to be happy, and to be happy I needed to be independent. It made me a hard worker, it made me strong.”

Ampem had to come to terms with her new life. Once she accepted her new home, things didn’t become easier but she found her reason to keep going.

“I had no other option; I couldn’t go back so I had to make the best of it. I had to keep going, my mom sent me here for a better life so I have to keep going for her.”

She was eventually moved to the proper grade, began working and making friends.

“I finally saved enough money to go back home and visit my family back in Ghana and it was amazing,” exclaimed Ampem. “I was 19 years old when I went back on my own. I loved it being able to see my mom and spend time with her. But I knew. I couldn’t stay. There was nothing there for me anymore. There was nothing for me to do, I didn’t have Ghanaian education. I wouldn’t have anything there.

“I never hustled harder than when I came back from my trip,” she laughed. “I spent so much money while I was there it was crazy. I had a dollar in my account. I took a screenshot of it to always remember and to push me. I had to reassess my life.”


Ampem took a look at where she was in life and looked to her family for guidance. At the age of 23 Ampem joining the U.S. Air Force. She had a family member that told her about the opportunities the military could offer, and the Air Force was the best way to go.

“I had a cousin in the Navy and he told me about his experience, and he suggested I join the Air Force,” said Ampem. “I talked to my mom about it, she is my biggest influence – if she said do it I would have done it, and she said I should do it.”

Ampem sought out the Air Force not only to better support herself, but to give herself more opportunities and to better support her family.

“I’ve changed since joining, I’ve become more calmed and peaceful. Even though I missed my mom when she wasn’t with me, I wouldn’t even hug her meeting her at the airport. The friends I made in basic military training made me more open. We shared the same experiences, I felt loved with them and I didn’t feel like that at home with my dad.

“They made me soft, I was comfortable showing my emotions,” she said.

Now a young adult, she was able to release the anger she bottled all those years as a teenager. She was able to find the family she left behind, and those strangers became her sister.