Fulfilling Dream To Serve In U.S. Military!
by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman
January 15, 2022
Senior Airman Adeola Shafe (Shuh-fee) is not the average senior airman in the United States Air Force.
Senior Airman Adeola Shafe, food distribution journeyman for the 403rd Force Support Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi stands outside of the Sablich Center on December 5, 2021. Shafe moved to America from Nigeria in 2018 and fulfilled his dream of joining the U.S. military. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman)
For starters, at age 42, he’s about 15-20 years older than the average senior airman.
Then there’s his demeanor. Not to say the average senior airman isn’t an exemplary servicemember, but there is a certain air upon approaching Shafe that is warm and inviting and stoic and purposeful and determined all at once.
And then he speaks and there’s his accent. While he resides in New Orleans, it’s not the Cajun patois native to the area, but a dialect from an entirely different continent.
Most stories involving someone packing up and venturing across the globe are more of the bildungsroman type. They take place early in the subject’s lives, when they don’t have much to lose and everything to gain. Not when they have a good job and a family of their own.
Encouraged by his mother, and a little reluctant, Shafe left a life he had built in Nigeria in September 2018 at the age of 38, to see what opportunities the United States had to offer him.
Prior to coming to America, Shafe admits he really did not have much interest just based on the fact the he had already built a life in Nigeria and that he was afraid of the unknown and the change. However, having researched beforehand different cities in the United States, and concluding that opportunity was everywhere waiting to be tapped into, Shafe set his sights on New Orleans and began his quest for employment.
He had one particular career-field in mind.
“Back in 2014 or ‘15, I had worked for Nigeria’s Ministry of Defence for a few months, and I would see these people looking so elegantly dressed, so I asked someone who they were and they told me they were American military members,” he said. “I remember telling my friends that if I ever went to America, I would join the military.”
Having only planned to give it one month to see if he could fulfill this dream, Shafe hit the ground running, contacting recruiters from various branches with the mindset that if he was not able to join the military by the end of the month he would return to Nigeria.
But he ran into a roadblock: his age. He found he exceeded the Army and Marine Corps’ age limits.
“It was very frustrating, as soon as I would tell a recruiter my age, that would be it,” said Shafe. “One time I refused to tell the recruiter my age over the phone. I said, ‘Just let me come,’ but still when I went, it was a Marine recruiter, he said ‘Oh sorry’ and that was it.”
That first month went by with no luck on the enlisting front, but Shafe’s mother insisted he stay and keep trying.
“That’s when I got a job as a Sheriff’s Deputy,” he said. “Considering I had had a good life in Nigeria and a degree, I didn’t want to come here just to be a taxi driver or working at a restaurant or something like that, so my mother suggested if I couldn’t join the military, I could join law enforcement.”
While landing that job fulfilled his need for income to provide for his two sons, his wife and his mother, Shafe didn’t see the job itself as necessarily the fulfillment he knew the military would bring him, so he continued to reach out to recruiters.
“Finally in September of 2019, at 39, I found an Air Force Reserve recruiter who said he could get me in before my 40th birthday,” he said. “We only had two months, so we had to get everything done quickly, I took the ASVAB and everything and was able to join.”
At the age of 40, Trainee Shafe was off to Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio where he realized his nearly decade old dream of joining the ranks of those “elegantly” dressed people he saw back in Nigeria.
“The proudest day of my life was the day I put on this uniform,” he said. “You know when you have a dream and you see that it’s being fulfilled? It just gives you this joy. I would do this for free. I remember my recruiter saying, ‘You’re not even asking how much you’re going to be paid’ and it was because I didn’t care. The fact that I’m in the military gives me what money can’t give me. It gives me joy. When you have satisfaction of the mind, it is unquantifiable.”
Senior Airman Shafe now serves in the Air Force Reserve’s 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., as a food distribution assistant for the 403rd Force Support Squadron.
They say actions speak louder than words and for Shafe this rings true saying that he puts all of his energy and zeal into his work because he wants to be heard, for his hard work to be his voice that motivates those around him to also give their all.
“The word that comes to mind when I think of him is: sharp. He’s just sharp,” said Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Jones, Shafe’s supervisor. “You give him any task and he’ll get it done flawlessly and in record time plus all of his other responsibilities, career development courses, Airman Leadership School, you name it, he excels at it.”
It took little time for Shafe to make an impact, earning recognition and awards for a year of work at the Air National Guard’s Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport, Miss., assisting in the base’s mission to train and equip thousands of deploying troops from all over during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was also recently recognized by an Air Force Reserve Command inspection team as a “Hard Charger” for his outstanding professionalism, technical expertise, and demonstrated excellence.
“The sky is the limit for Senior Airman Shafe,” said Jones. “His professionalism and manners and his work ethic—he’s just an awesome troop and an asset to the 403rd Wing.”
In regard to the future, Shafe hopes to land a full-time opportunity serving in the military. He’s also working to have his entire family here, as his wife is still currently in Africa.
“I do miss the fact that I’m not here with my full family; my wife is still back home in Nigeria, so I’m balancing parenting and my job and while also still trying to stabilize myself here but I don’t let it weigh me down,” he said. “I’m just so grateful to be here, wearing this uniform, and every day I derive my strength from the fact that I am fulfilling my dream.”
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