When Winnie Adipo was just a little girl growing up in Kenya, she dreamed of nothing more than becoming an officer in the army.
Every year, Adipo’s father, an agriculture teacher at a local secondary school, had free tickets to see the annual fair in Mombasa, a coastal town on the eastern outskirts of Kenya.
With the myriad of vibrant colors, dizzying rides flying overhead, and delicious scents in the air, any child will be dazzled by the fairgrounds. However, Adipo expected an attraction more than any adrenaline rush that rides or sugary sweets could offer.
“After all the roller coasters and food trucks closed for the night, the Kenyan army would arrive,” said Adipo, his warm brown eyes lighting up. “We would wait until midnight every year for his performance.”
As a boy, Adipo was mesmerized by images of soldiers in starched uniforms, marching in perfect sync with the thunderous music of the band; a preemptive instinct grew within her, drawn to the potent display of strength and unity.
“When I was older, I began to understand the impacts of military service,” Adipo said. “I saw that it was something bigger than me and I knew that I wanted to join.”
Adipo would attempt to enlist several times in the Kenyan Army, and each time would be denied.
“Unemployment was really high in Kenya,” Adipo said. “So of course a lot of people would try to enlist, but the recruiters were only letting in people they knew or could pay to get in.”
On his fourth and final try, after earning his bachelor’s degree, he talked to a recruiter about becoming an officer.
“He said, ‘Give me 200,000 shillings and I’ll fix you,’” Adipo said, frowning. “I just didn’t have that kind of pocket money and just like that, my dream was gone.”
While his dream of joining the Kenyan Army came to an end, Adipo would enlist in the US Air Force in 2016.
His journey from Kenya to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, is one of perseverance and determination. A success story that Adipo attributes to a lifetime of experiences that gave him his diverse background.
Adipo’s cultural humility began long before he set foot abroad. Kenya is made up of 44 tribes, all with different languages and cultural backgrounds. His father was from a small coastal tribe called the Mijikenda and his mother from a large central tribe called the Kikuyu.
Born in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, Adipo and her family moved to the city of Mombasa when she was very young. While most of Kenya is populated by Christians like her family, Mombasa is a Muslim community with a largely Arab population.
His family home in Mombasa had no running water or electricity until he was 14 years old. Consequently, he spent much of his childhood going to a well to fetch water, washing clothes by hand, playing with other children in the sand, and exploring nearby bushes in search of wild berries.
While all of her older siblings attended Christian high schools, Adipo’s high academic grades qualified her to go to a nearby predominantly Muslim high school.
“Almost everyone in that school was Muslim and Arab, I was among the few Christian Africans there,” Adipo said. “I had to wear a hijab for the first time, learn Islamic culture and the Arabic language.”
In addition to military aspirations, Adipo also had an attraction to nursing, having grown up watching his mother work as a nurse. As the second youngest in a middle-class family of five children, she could not afford to study nursing on her own.
Despite getting excellent grades throughout her primary and secondary education, she did not qualify for the government scholarship for nursing school. After receiving scholarships for an alternative field of study, she obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology and communications from the University of Nairobi in 2012.
Her dreams began to come true in 2015 when Adipo received an email, mistakenly sent as spam, to her account saying that she had been selected for the Diversity Visa Program. The DVP is an initiative sponsored by the US Department of State that annually awards up to 50,000 immigrant visas to potential immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.
“If you have never left your country of birth, I will tell you to go and experience how different the world is,” Adipo said. “It completely opens your mind.”
He first arrived in Tacoma, Washington in October 2015. He would spend the first two months gathering all the necessary documents to start work.
“The man who took me to the social security card offices asked me what I had been doing in Kenya and what I wanted to do,” Adipo said. “I told him that when I was a child, my dream was to join the army.”
The man immediately encouraged her to consider enlisting in the US Army and gave her a number of US Air Force recruiters. Adipo described being surprised by the smoothness of the enlistment process in compared to what he found in Kenya.
“It was so simple that I couldn’t believe it,” Adipo said. “No one was trying to take my money!”
Adipo asked again about joining as an officer. However, she needed to obtain American citizenship to be commissioned into an officer position, which Adipo could only acquire through first enlistment.
Having scored highly on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, a multiple-choice test designed to predict occupational success in the military, she was qualified for any job of her choice.
The Air Force gave him the opportunity to finally train and work in the medical field, and Adipo enlisted as a health services administration specialist.
From the beginning of his military service, Adipo set the standard among his fellow airmen, beginning with basic military training.
“In Kenya we are used to a culture of discipline and respect for higher authority,” Adipo said with a shrug. “People coming up and yelling in my face? That’s nothing to me. I was used to the hard life.”
Upon graduating from basic training and technical school, he quickly began to excel in operational Air Force. In 2018, he earned Below Zone Consideration, an early promotion consideration given to junior enlisted Airmen who demonstrate exceptional performance and operate a rank above their current class. Just 3 years later, now a staff sergeant, she was placed as a non-commissioned officer in charge of personnel administration with the 56th Medical Group at Luke AFB.
Although she has already proven successful in her current career field, Adipo has never lost sight of achieving her goal of becoming a nurse and commissioned officer. She began preparing her submission package for the Nursing Enlisted Commissioning Program in 2022. The highly selective program would allow her to earn a nursing degree at no cost at a public university while continuing to receive benefits and pay before attending Training School of Officers. She would later return to active duty as a commissioned nursing officer in the US Air Force.
Adipo said that despite the stereotypes or ignorance formed by the lack of exposure to various cultures, her origin and nationality were never something that stopped her in or out of her career.
“When you’re faced with adversity or negativity, when people make assumptions about you, you can’t focus on that,” Adipo said, his voice cracking with quiet fervor. “You can let your work speak for itself and people will notice.”
Her work certainly garnered attention, and in April 2023, she was selected for the Nursing Enlisted Commissioning Program. Adipo is scheduled to start classes in August at Arizona State University.
His success can be attributed, Adipo says, to the lessons in patience, acceptance and humility he learned from his upbringing.
“Diversity is really here,” Adipo said, pressing a finger to his temple. “Just being the same color, age, or gender doesn’t mean you’ll have the same perspective from people who share your appearance. We all think and contribute to the mission differently.”
The Air Force recognizes the essential value that diversity of backgrounds, experience, demographics, perspectives, thinking, and organization contribute to our ultimate success in an increasingly competitive and dynamic global environment.
Adipo supports this ideology, stating, “We all come from different walks of life here, and that’s what makes America great.”
Airmen like Adipo not only exemplify the core value of Air Force excellence, but contribute to the diversity of perspectives that is not only the greatest influence of the force, but of the nation.
|Date to be held:||07.18.2023|
|Publication date:||18.07.2023 22:10|
|Location:||LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, AZ, USA|