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, 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 food bank with packaging and distributing food donations for Ohioans in need.
Spc. Elama, a Soldier assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 148th Infantry Battalion in nearby Walbridge, Ohio, took a leap of faith with his family when they applied for immigration visas in 2004 through the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Congo.
At age 9, 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, 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,” Elama said. “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 Army Junior ROTC while attending high school in Virginia.
“I fell in love with the military way of life that JROTC taught cadets,” Elama said. “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, where his new high school offered only Air Force JRTOC. Wanting to continue his education in military fundamentals, Elama signed up and completed the program. Upon graduation from high school, Elama said he still loved military structure and wanted to continue to be in that kind of environment. So in 2017, Elama enlisted into the Ohio Army National Guard.
“I felt that it was important to serve my country,” Elama said. “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 the state’s COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts.
“I don’t remember a lot about living in the refugee camp,” Elama said. “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,’” Elama said. “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 in nearby Bowling Green, Ohio, pursuing a degree in international relations, Elama said he plans to make a career of serving in the Ohio National Guard, but also has a dream of one day becoming U.S. ambassador to the Congo region so he can help families where he grew up, just as he and his family were once assisted.
“It feels great. It’s amazing,” Elama said. “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,” Elama said.