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Adapt and overcome: the Desmond Awadzi story

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joseph Raatz
  • 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs
For Staff Sgt. Desmond K. Awadzi, adapt and overcome is not merely a token phrase; it's a way of life.

As the eldest child in a working Ghanaian family, he was expected to help provide for the family and his three younger siblings.

"It wasn't easy for me growing up as the oldest child," said Awadzi, 2nd Bomb Wing Force Support Squadron promotions NCO-in-charge. "I think I bore the brunt of how life was for us back then, so my siblings wouldn't have to. But as we got older and things got better, it was a little easier for them than it was for me, and I'm thankful for that."

Not wanting to work menial jobs for the rest of his life, Awadzi worked hard and, with the help of his parents, put himself through college, becoming the first person in his family to do so. His intense effort and dedication paid off when he graduated summa cum laude from the University of Cape Coast with a degree in business management.

Awadzi then moved to England on a one-year work visa, continuing to send money home to his family. After his visa expired, he was forced to return to Ghana to complete a year of mandatory civil service. Upon completion, Awadzi applied for a visa to enter the United States and was pleasantly surprised when he was approved for a permanent visa under the Department of State's Diversity Visa program.

"I knew I wanted to do something to give back, and joining the military seemed like a good way to do that," he said.

His career in the Air Force has been nothing short of stellar. Awadzi has won both personal and professional awards at nearly every level, earned his master's degree with a 3.94 GPA and has been lauded by everyone from his direct supervisor up to the commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, Gen. Robin Rand, all while continuing to support his family back home.

"Around wing staff and across the base, we all know Awadzi," said Senior Master Sgt. Robert Laufer, 2nd BW Wing Staff Agencies superintendent. "He's one of the most humble guys I know, so you'll never hear him say it, but he's a superstar."

When word came down of a new enlisted commissioning opportunity, Awadzi jumped at the chance.

"I was actually at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, for training, when I found out," he said. "On a whim I checked my email, and I was intrigued. I decided that when I got back to Barksdale I would check it out and, if I thought I had a shot, I would put a package in."

The new Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning Program creates an avenue for Air Force senior leaders to directly select a small handful of enlisted Airmen to earn their chance to become an officer. Each major command commander, as well as the chief of staff, secretary and chief master sergeant of the Air Force, selects two deserving enlisted Airmen annually. Of these selections, half are members who have completed their bachelor's degree and are assigned a slot in Officer Training School, while the other half are selected to enroll in the ROTC while completing their degree.

Awadzi, after advancing through the squadron, group and wing levels, found his package competing against others from bases all over AFGSC. After waiting for weeks with bated breath, word came down that he had not been selected as the MAJCOM's pick.

"I'm not going to lie, it was a bit of a rough day," Awadzi said, laughing. "But I was determined to keep trying through the regular channels. I thought to myself, 'I'm going to use this as another learning opportunity. There's always something I can improve and I'll come back even stronger next time.'"

Several days later, Awadzi was hard at work in the military personnel section when his phone rang.

"I answered, giving my little spiel: '2nd Force Support Squadron, Staff Sgt. Awadzi speaking. How may I help you today?'" he said. "And then I hear 'Good morning Sgt. Awadzi, this is Chief of Staff Mark Welsh. How are you today?' And I just stared at the phone with my mouth open for a moment before I could respond."

After getting over his initial surprise, Awadzi spoke with Welsh for about twenty minutes, discussing his background and reasons for pursuing a commission.

"At the end of the call he just says 'Well, Sgt. Awadzi, I first want to thank you for your service and for all the great things you do for our nation. And I want you to tell your commander that you will be leaving shortly for OTS as my number one pick,'" Awadzi said. "I was stunned. I couldn't believe it."

While he does not yet have a reporting date for OTS, Awadzi's spot is locked-in. He hopes to continue his career as a contracting or finance officer, drawing on lessons learned during his time as an enlisted Airman. As an officer, Awadzi believes his life experiences and adaptability will allow him to serve as an example for his Airmen.

"The ability to adapt to anything that comes your way, good or bad, and to learn from that and adjust your future actions accordingly, is absolutely key to being successful," he said. "But even more than that, I think the mark of a good leader is humility. In particular, being humble enough to realize every person you come across can teach you something. Whether it's related to your career, your personal life or something else, everyone has had different experiences and you can learn from them no matter how old they are or what their rank or position is. I've tried to make that my main focus as an enlisted leader, and I think it will be even more important moving forward."

Awadzi intends to continue sending money home, he said. Thanks in part to his financial and moral support thus far, Awadzi's siblings are on track for success after earning degrees ranging from engineering to business, while his youngest sister is currently enrolled in medical school.

Additionally, after engaging in a long and complicated process, his wife Joyce and their newborn baby are in the final stages of receiving visas of their own so as to leave Ghana and join him here in the U.S.

"It's still kind of hard to believe all of this is happening, and so quickly," Awadzi said, smiling. "I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities I've been given. I've really been blessed. I won't let them go to waste."