From relying on food to delivering it: Ohio National Guard Soldier shares story of becoming U.S. citizen
Story by Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker, 180th Fighter Wing
TOLEDO, Ohio (04/03/20)
Born in a refugee camp in Africa’s Democratic Republic of Congo, Spc. Jacque Elama and his family, spent half of his life relying on community donations to survive, today, he is serving his state by supporting the local foodbank pack food donations to deliver to Ohioans in need.
Elama, a Soldier assigned to the Ohio National Guard’s HHC 1-148th Infantry Regiment – 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, took a leap of faith with his family when they applied for immigration visas through the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, in 2004.
At age nine, Elama, along with his four siblings, parents and his uncle, traveled to the U.S. with hopes for a better life and to pursue the ultimate American dream.
Working through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Cleveland, Ohio, those dreams finally came true in 2010 when Elama and his family earned their citizenship.
“I felt proud to be part of the American life and the American dream,” said Elama. “This is an accomplishment that so many dream of, but not many achieve.”
Now a citizen, Elama had the opportunities and resources available to set his dreams into motion and he started by joining the U.S. Army’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps while attending High School in Virginia.
“I fell in love with the military way of life that JROTC taught cadets,” said Elama. “The focus was on military structure, good, positive behavior, being a good person and helping people.”
During his high school years, Elama and his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his new high school only offered Air Force JRTOC, and wanting to continue his education in military fundamentals, he signed up and completed the program upon graduation and decided he still loved the military structure and environment.
In 2017, Elama enlisted into the Ohio Army National Guard.
“I felt that it was important to serve my country,” said Elama. “This country has provided for me and my family and made us feel like we are a true American family.”
When COVID-19 spread to Ohio in March, there was no question or hesitation for Elama when the Ohio National Guard asked for volunteers to support Coronavirus relief efforts.
“I don’t remember a lot about living in the refugee camp,” Elama explained. “I never really thought about it or realized if we struggled, but I do remember that we always had enough to eat and that was largely due to community donations.”
“When I was asked if I wanted to volunteer to help the Northwest Ohio community, I immediately said yes,” said Elama. “Today, I’m helping those in need and it’s personal to me. My family was in need when we arrived in the U.S. and all kinds of people helped us. I finally have a way to pay it forward by helping those in need in my community.”
Currently a full-time student at Bowling Green State University, pursuing a degree in International Relations, Elama plans to make a career of serving in the Ohio National Guard, but also has a dream of one day becoming a U.S. Ambassador to the Congo region so he can continue efforts of helping families in his home country.
“It feels great. It’s amazing,” expressed Elama. “I feel honored to be able to help my community and one day, I hope I can help others achieve the opportunities I have now and a chance to live the American dream.”
“I can now say, I am an Ohioan serving Ohioans,” said Elama.