TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Nov. 22, 2016 (EIN Presswire) — Being an American citizen may seem ordinary for most, but for some airmen, the path to citizenship is anything but ordinary.
Air Force Senior Airman Michael Mwelwa, a military pay technician with the 60th Comptroller Squadron here, was awarded U.S. citizenship in May at the age of 23. Mwelwa was born in Zambia, a country in Southern Africa. He lived there until the age of five, when his parents decided to leave in hopes of a better life.
“Life was pretty normal in Zambia, but my parents wanted something better for us,” said Mwelwa.
Mwelwa, his parents, and four siblings left Zambia in 1997 and found themselves in Pittsburgh. Transitioning to life in the United States was somewhat difficult, he said.
“We didn’t live the same way we did back in Zambia, but once we got some traction things got much better,” Mwelwa said.
Unfortunately, that traction wasn’t enough to keep his parents from separating just a few years after arriving in Pittsburgh. Mwelwa said his family changed drastically when he no longer lived with his father.
“My father moved around a lot to places like Connecticut and Wisconsin, so I would only see him every once and a while,” he said.
Path to Citizenship
While Mwelwa was in middle school his mother joined the Army National Guard, which put him on a course to citizenship.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, members of the U.S. armed forces and their dependents may be eligible for citizenship, to include expedited and overseas processing, under special provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Although Mwelwa was proud of his mother, he said he had no intention of joining the military; he was planning on pursuing a football career. Ranked as the best running back in his conference, Mwelwa hoped to receive a scholarship to a NCAA Division I school and play football. However, in his senior year of high school, Mwelwa suffered an ankle injury that derailed those plans.
“Playing football was definitely a reality for me because the next-ranked running back in the conference got a full scholarship and my stats were much better than his,” he said.
His next option was to attend college on his own, which he tried for a year, until he realized it would be too expensive, Mwelwa said.
Having taken the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery exam in his senior year of high school, he knew military service was an option for him and he decided to join the Air Force.
The Air Force offered a variety of occupations for Mwelwa to choose from, he said, and his mother told him, “the Air Force takes care of its people.”
“The Air Force had a lot to offer that I was interested in, it seemed like it had more opportunities for me because of my ASVAB scores,” said Mwelwa.
Mwelwa said he had no apprehensions about serving in the Air Force despite not being a U.S. citizen, because he feels more like an American than a Zambian. He also said he kind of enjoys the attention he’s gotten from people who are interested in his story.
Since joining the Air Force in May 2013, Mwelwa has excelled. He made staff sergeant. his first time testing, won Warrior of the Week and was recognized as the 60th CPTS Airman of the Quarter.
“Mwelwa has an un-ending drive towards excellence, and embodies our core values,” said 1st Lt. Christopher Larsen, commander of the 60th CPTS Financial Services Flight. “We can trust him with any job and we’ll know he’ll get it done right.”
Mwelwa said he is looking forward to becoming a supervisor and mentoring fellow airmen. He’s also looking forward to the opportunity to vote in the upcoming presidential election, a first for him.
But what Mwelwa cherishes the most, he said, is the fact that he can now call himself an American.