USAF Pilot Overcomes Hurdles To Achieve Dreams
by U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Alexis Sandoval
I have to get
into this school or else I won’t fly.
That was the
ultimatum Fiona Akoth gave herself when she was in the 11th grade
visiting the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Fiona Akoth, 310th Special Operations Squadron U-28A Draco pilot, poses for a portrait at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico on March 9, 2023. Capt. Akoth immigrated to America from Kisumu, Kenya at the age of nine where she later attended the United States Air Force Academy and eventually became a U-28A pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis Sandoval)
Akoth is from the city of Kisumu, Kenya.
There she lived with her family and at the age of nine Akoth
discovered her passion for airplanes while watching them land on the
small airstrip near Lake Victoria.
“When I was young I
always looked up at the sky,” she reminisced. “And whenever I would
see airplanes, I fell in love with them.”
Despite having the
desire to fly, the challenges to reach her desires presented
themselves almost immediately. Akoth voiced this to her family, but
with their financial situation it just did not seem to be realistic.
“My family knew that I wanted to, but they never really
thought that it would be possible,” said Akoth. “Flying is really
expensive and so they were just like, ‘Hey, I know you really want
to do this, but maybe you should think about medical school or maybe
you should think about becoming a lawyer because it is a little
At the age of 13 she joined her family who lived in
Texas. There she voiced her dream to fly again and fortunately this
time was met with support. However, a new challenge presented itself
and she was going to have to figure it out on her own. In immigrant
communities this is typical simply due to the lack of knowledge over
the different resources and opportunities in a country foreign to
“You don't know what you don't know,” said Akoth, “Our
parents, my mom she was just trying to do her best. Not only are you
facing the normal struggles that people from here (America) face,
but you're also facing the fact that you're in a completely
different environment with people you don't know. You only know a
certain amount of people and they only have access to a certain
amount of information. You're just less exposed.”
Fortunately, in the 11th grade she had a Junior Reserve Officers'
Training Corps instructor that exposed her to the paths available to
“I was just lucky because my JROTC instructor was my
foot into finding out more about the military in general,” said
Akoth, “I didn’t know about the Air Force Academy, West Point or the
Naval Academy until someone outside of our community was able to
tell us, ‘Hey, this would be a great opportunity for her. She could
go to one of the academies.’”
Fast forward to now, Capt.
Fiona Akoth is a 310th Special Operations Squadron U-28 Draco pilot.
A long way from the start but living the life she once only dreamed
of. With multiple deployments to East Africa it has come full circle
“It felt surreal,” said Akoth. “Because I was back
in the country that I had grown up in trying to help and provide to
my fellow countrymen. I felt like it was my calling like I was put
on this journey so that I could be able to do that. I was able to do
something that I have been working for the last 15 years of my life.
Finally, I was able to do it, not only to do it, but to be able to
do it so close to home.”
Akoth is an example of overcoming
adversity. For Akoth, the barriers came in various forms be it
financial, familial and even herself at times. Her biggest take away
and what she wants to share to other people like her is that it is
easier said than done, but it can be done. Even if it’s only one
step at a time.
Just make sure to always look up.
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