By Airman 1st Class Jesenia Landaverde, 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 23, 2018
FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE,Wash. -- Togo is a country in West Africa that relies heavily on its commercial agriculture. Farmlands, trees and bushes fill the narrow land. Farmers can be seen harvesting cocoa, coffee, cotton and fruit. Forty percent of their exported goods revenue supports much of the Togolese population. Despite the dominance of agriculture in Togo, many still suffer from hunger and continue to live under the poverty line.
“I wanted to change my life and future for my kids,” said Airman 1st Class Kofi Combey Douhadji, a Togo native. “I firmly believe what you visualize for your future can become reality.”
Although Douhadji’s standard of living increased during his college years, there were many years his family worked to make ends meet.
“After junior secondary school, I moved to Aneho, Togo, with my sister to go to high school,” said Douhadji, a 92nd Logistic Readiness Squadron vehicle operator. “My sister and I shared a small room that had no plumbing or electricity. All together my dad gave us six dollars for the whole month. We used candle light to study at night. When we didn’t have enough money for a candle, we walked a mile down the road to the school campus to use the light poles.”
To meet the standard of living in Togo, families would need to bring home 10 to 20 times that allowance amount. Surviving in this living condition was very tough, Douhadji added.
After high school, Douhadji moved to the capital of Togo: Lomé. There he stayed in his grandfather’s house to attend college at Ismad University, where he earned an associate’s degree in civil engineering, met his wife and started his own construction company, which employed 15 other men. He was also well-known in the West African region for his alter ego, Oneil Biatti, a musician who sings world music, which is the modernized tribal music making its way around the globe.
“[Lomé] is where I gained my own philosophy of life,” Douhadji said. “I started reading a lot about American culture and its history. I wasn’t good at English, so I wrote down or typed words until I met someone who was fluent enough to explain it to me. That’s how I was able to understand.”
Douhadji specifically became interested in John F. Kennedy and his role as president during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War.
“When Kennedy asked for volunteers for the Vietnam War, he didn’t just ask for white men, he accepted anyone who was willing to fight for their country. If colored men could fight and defend the country, why don’t they benefit from aid,” Douhadji added. “It really spoke to me.”
This spurred Douhadji to purchase two flags when he was 17, a Togo flag and an American flag.
“Those two flags mean a lot to me,” Douhadji said. “It became a dream to at least visit the U.S. one day.”
Douhadji, along with his wife and four-year-old daughter, participated in the online Diversity Visa Lottery Program. The program provides a limited number of visas each fiscal year to a class of immigrants known as “diversity immigrants” from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. The diversity visas are randomly distributed among six geographic regions and no single country may receive more than seven percent of the available visas within one year.
Douhadji and his family were selected by the program to immigrate to the U.S. with a 10-year visa.
“There was a huge fear of the unknown,” Douhadji said. “The moment we had the opportunity to come to the U.S., we weren’t struggling like I once was. We gave up everything to come to an unknown place where we hardly knew the language. My passion and interest for the U.S. helped us prepare for this new life.”
Douhadji and his family arrived in El Paso, Texas on September 27, 2016, after a lot of paperwork, a long investigation and many interviews.
After only being in the U.S. for six months, Douhadji was inspired to enlist in the United States Air Force in March 2017.
“I was looking for a way to give back to those who have fought and help build this country, as well as help maintain the American dream for others who may be going through a situation like mine,” Douhadji said.
Douhadji has been at Fairchild for a mere nine months, yet his work ethic, personality and dedication to the Air Force is not lost on his squadron and wing leadership.
“He is the most motived Airman I’ve ever met,” said Staff Sgt. Mario Palacio, 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron NCO in charge of equipment support and Douhadji’s supervisor. “He inspires me to be a better supervisor; he always has me looking for new opportunities for him to grow.”
Douhadji is a top performer in his unit and won’t quit until he achieves his goals. His energetic spirit has often been the conversation amongst his leadership, added Palacio.
“The Air Force has helped strengthen my confidence, professionalism and beliefs,” Douhadji said. “I thought I was doing something for others, but it turns out the Air Force continues to do so much for me.”
Douhadji is currently attending Bellevue University, earning his bachelor’s degree in business analysis and management. He is working on an Officer Training School package in the hopes of commissioning in 2019 to become a pilot.
“This is the first step to achieving my dream of flying,” Douhadji said. “If for some reason I can’t become a fighter pilot, I will continue to serve in the Air Force. I was made to be an American Airman.”