Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. (Dec. 3, 2018) -- "Growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer or to serve my country,” said Cpt. Raymond Akeriwe, 62nd Engineer Battalion. “It wasn't until I served at a Catholic Monastery, where I discovered my desire to join the priesthood.
"As a boy growing up in West Africa, I aspired to live in the United States," he said. "I wanted the nice house and the big car like I saw on T.V."
Akeriwe, a Ghanaian native, said his decision to become a missionary would finally bring him to the U.S. While assigned to a parish in Indiana, he met a Vietnam veteran who would change his life forever.
"Every week, this veteran attended my mass and confessed his sins," said Akeriwe. "After the confessions he would say, 'You should look into joining the Army, I think you would do a lot of good for the Soldiers.'”
A few years later, while Akeriwe was overseas doing more missionary work that veteran passed away. About a year later his phone rang and an unfamiliar voice answered.
“Who is this strange man and what does he want from me,” questioned Akeriwe.
The man asked him if he was interested in becoming a priest for the U.S. Army. Unsure, Akeriwe thought about it until he realized that the Vietnam vet who had passed submitted his name. Akeriwe agreed because it was a way to honor the deceased vet.
He sent the request to his superiors, who he thought would decline the request. They surprised him and granted his transfer.
"It was surprising how fast the entire process went," said Akeriwe, who is now an Army Chaplain. "Within six months I was at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, completing my training. Then I was sent to Fort Hood, Texas."
Akeriwe said he found the transition a unique, but rewarding challenge. As a chaplain he is expected to take on a counselor role.
"The Soldiers talk to me because it is a safe zone, " said Akeriwe. "Most of the issues they have talked to me about were relationship based and this mission is no different, just different faces."
He is deployed to the Southwest Border in Arizona, as the Catholic Chaplain for the Soldiers who deployed to the border. U.S. Northern Command is providing military support to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to secure the southern border of the United States.
The Soldiers at the border have missed significant time with their families, many of whom found peace in talking with Akeriwe.
"Leading up to the holidays, I had a lot of Soldiers talk to me about how difficult it was to be in the U.S., but not be with their families for the first time," he said. "I had one Soldier tell me that this was the first time his wife would be alone for a holiday."
The leadership put together a day of flag football, coin presentations and a large Thanksgiving meal to give the Soldiers a sense of home.
"The meal allowed me to spend the holiday with the people I love," said Akeriwe. "If I was back at Fort Hood, I would have spent this day alone. This meal introduced us to a new type of family."
Akeriwe said that the family he found within the Army is like nothing he’s experienced before.