From Ethiopia to America: An Airman’s story

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis
  • 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Mintesnot Woldetsadik was filled with wonderment as he took his first steps on American soil. He looked all around him in a confused daze until finally he settled his view on a blanketed-white landscape. Cupping his hand, he hunched over and scooped up the cold unfamiliar substance and brought it towards his mouth.

Expecting the substance to have the taste of salt, Woldetsadik realized the foreign substance was snow -- something he never experienced before.

Originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Tech. Sgt. Mintesnot Woldetsadik, 757th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Eagle Aircraft Maintenance Unit supply NCO in charge, came to America in 2001 at the age of 22, after winning the Diversity Visa Lottery.

"What the United States does for third-world countries is a visa lottery," said Woldetsadik. "You apply for it; however, they only give out a certain amount of visas so not everybody gets one, so if you win the lottery you can come here."

When Woldetsadik came to the United States he first landed in Columbus, Ohio.  He enrolled at Ohio State University and for 9 months he was adapting to American culture, when one day a passing exchange changed his direction in life.

"I was driving to the mall in Columbus and me and this stranger in another car next to me were stopped at a rail light. I had my window down and I noticed he had rolled his down," said Woldetsadik. "He was in a weird funny blue outfit and I look over and he salutes me. 

"So what do I do? I salute him back. I didn't really know how to salute so I probably gave him this weird hand movement.  I just knew he raised his hand so I did too, so he asked me, 'Do you want to join the Air Force?' And I said, 'What is the Air Force?' I thought he was talking about a club or something. I didn't know, I was just trying to adapt to everything. I was new to the country. "

Following the encounter, the stranger asked Woldetsadik to follow him back to his office, to which he obliged.

"I parked my car and he came up to me and shook my hand and he sat me down and told me what the Air Force was," said Woldetsadik. "He started asking me all these questions about if I had a green card or education packet, and if I could bring all of that to him. So I did, that same day." 

The recruiter asked what kind of work Woldetsadik would want to do in the service and he told them something in the pharmacy, however, the field didn't have any open positions so he was placed in an open admin slot.

"The recruiter told me that when I got to Lackland (Air Force Base, Texas), I could pick my job and I was ok with that," said Woldetsadik. "After that, he told me I needed to take the (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test) and I'm like what is the ASVAB?

"He happened to have other recruits that day taking the ASVAB and he said that he could take me that day as well. So I went, took the test and I passed. The next day, I found myself in (a Military Entrance Processing Station) doing a whole bunch of checkups."

Three days after meeting the recruiter, Woldetsadik found himself with a boarding pass in hand written out for Lackland.

"I didn't really tell my family that I was joining the Air Force because the window it happened in was like 3 days," said Woldetsadik. "The first week of basic training was tough because I didn't really have any information to really get ready for it; I had to adapt from nothing."

Woldetsadik stated that he spent the first two weeks mimicking the things other trainees did.

"After the second week it was all fine," said Woldetsadik. "I adapted and I graduated. I went to tech school, which was supply, and I was actually the second top student in my class."

Since then, Woldetsadik has been stationed at two bases, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, and Nellis AFB, Nevada, and now has a line number for master sergeant.

"If you understand aircraft maintenance, parts and supply is our lifeblood," said Capt. William Keuchler, 757th AMXS Eagle AMU officer in charge. "If we don't get parts, say a jet goes down for an extended amount of time; if he is not doing his job effectively it really affects the overall mission of sorties. The job he has done has let us have some of the best metrics we've ever had, he does really good work."

Woldetsadik, now a husband and father of four, hopes to eventually make his way back to Ethiopia to visit his family.

"For me personally, whenever I hear his story, obviously it's pretty cool but to me it's truly an American story," said Keuchler. "He wins the lottery, he gets over here, joins the Air Force, realizes the military is a great opportunity and he has taken advantage of it since.

"Ethiopia is one of the largest countries in the world -- population wise -- and they have obviously a lot of people trying to get (to the US) so he won the visa lottery, but literally he can't be any luckier -- he hit the jackpot."